Periscope made one of the most significant announcements in the app's short history this week. From now on, Periscope videos which are posted to Twitter will show up as playable in-stream content on iOS devices, as opposed to a link.
So, in essence, Periscope links will go from this:
Periscope broadcasts now come alive within Twitter https://t.co/R346R1lgZb- Periscope (@periscopeco) January 12, 2016
Pretty slick looking, huh? And as you can also see from the above video, Periscope content will autoplay in your Twitter timeline, so your live-streams will be exposed to a whole new audience - while Periscope (as of last check) has around 2 million daily active users (DAUs) consuming the equivalent of 40 years of video content on the platform every 24 hours, its 10 million active accounts pales in comparison to Twitter's 320 million monthly active users (MAUs). Reach is a core problem for live-streaming apps - in order to gain significant audience, there has to be a big enough group of people using the app in the first place to be exposed to Periscope content. Sure, you can alert people via other social networks, but discoverability is limited by people not being active Periscope users - and part of the problem in getting more people to become regular users of the app is that the content currently posted via live-streaming apps is such a mixed bag, there's a huge variance in quality and subject matter that the platform itself is not, for many, a highly compelling experience.
This update changes that, though some may not be fully aware of its wider potential impact.
Live and In-Person
Content quality is a key limitation of live-streaming. Yes, platforms like Periscope, Meerkat and Blab provide amazing opportunities for individuals and brands to connect with their audiences in a real, authentic way - looking people in the eye via webcam is likely the closest experience we can digitally generate to meeting someone in person (at least till VR comes into effect). But as anyone who's ever logged onto any of the live-streaming platforms will attest, the content mix is very broad. Some would say that's a good thing, as it gives more people more opportunity to express themselves in a new way. And while I agree with the sentiment, that wide diversity of content also makes it a less compelling experience, as a platform.
Or, more effectively, the low quality content outweighs the good stuff, usually by a big margin, which doesn't inspire visitors to stick around and view more live-stream content, or to come back another time to see what else is on offer.
This is why Facebook's taken a more gradual approach to live-streaming - what Facebook's done is they've introduced their live-streaming option (creatively titled 'Live') to celebrities and people with verified profiles first, in order to get more of those people to post more live-stream content of broad appeal to the platform, helping to build audience awareness of the tool. When those celebrities see that they can reach thousands, even millions of viewers, quickly and easily, that compels them to create more content - and because most of the general public can't currently produce their own Facebook live-stream content, it also narrows the audience focus for Live, heightening the value of the each broadcast.
Now Facebook's slowly opening up Live to all users, but where Facebook's plan is very clever is that Facebook Live video is now dominated by celebrity content. If Facebook were to introduce a separate platform to showcase Live content - the way Periscope and Meerkat do with their broadcasts - the Facebook Live content channels would be significantly more compelling, at least in terms of wide audience appeal. As such, if Facebook were to do this, they'd also be able to generate better reach for Live users, as your Live content could be shown alongside that of celebrities, providing great exposure. Facebook haven't indicated this is exactly where they're going with Live yet, but such a move would make sense, particularly if streaming continues to rise in popularity and Facebook decides they want to beat out the other players in the field.
By upping the average quality standard for Live broadcasts, via a mixture of celebrity and everyday user content, Facebook's working to alleviate the quality issue that currently restricts live-streaming reach. Yet, even if they don't create a specific Live platform, Facebook's already a step ahead, as their Live content appears in people's News Feeds and autoplays like other video. Rather than trying to filter people to another app, Facebook Live content comes to you, and that's why this announcement from Periscope/Twitter is significant. By exposing Periscope content to a wider audience through autoplay video in-stream in Twitter feeds more people are going to watch Periscope content.
Likely, a lot more.
Next time you see a 'Live on Periscope' tweet, you won't have to click on a link, it'll just start playing in your tweet stream. And as it does, there's a much higher chance that you're going to watch more Periscope content. Maybe just for a moment, maybe just to see who it is and what it's about. But it is more likely you'll watch. The probability of viewers sticking around to view Periscope streams is much higher, as it's already right there, it's playing in real time.
That immediacy, particularly in the case of live broadcasts, is significant, and it ups the value of Periscope as a broadcast tool by a lot. And what's more, most people and brands have a lot more followers on Twitter than on Periscope, a much bigger audience to share their content with. Through this update, Periscope will become more appealing proposition for brands - imagine news reporters broadcasting live, in real-time, on Twitter, at any time. Similar can be done on Facebook, of course, but organic reach restrictions mean that you've got no chance of reaching all your followers, at least without paying for it (which could prove difficult to do in real time, either way). Twitter's also still considered the leader in real-time coverage and breaking events, the place people go for breaking news.
The appeal of immediate, streaming content, direct from Periscope, will ramp up as broadcasters see their viewer stats climb with Twitter users clicking through - the emphasis still needs to be on entertainment, of course, on creating engaging, interesting Periscope content, but the audience potential will be much higher, the boost in overall viewership will be big.
It's not a game-changing move, but it's a logical progression, and one which could boost the utility of both Periscope and Twitter respectively.
That is, of course, unless Facebook makes a counter strike.
The Waiting Game
A few months back, I thought Periscope was onto something great when they announced the release of their Apple TV app, enabling viewers to watch Periscope content from the comfort of their couch. This, essentially, could make live-streaming a genuine entertainment option - theoretically, as you flick through channels on your TV, you'd be able to switch across to Periscope and see if your favorite 'scopers were on too. Unfortunately, the app didn't quite deliver on that promise - you have little control over the content displayed and you end up wading through streams of junk to find something good to watch - or, more likely, you don't bother. But the basic idea is there. There could come a time where live-streaming becomes a viable broadcast option, if done right.
And this is where Facebook could really start to create some waves. A patent posted online recently outlines how Facebook has plans in the works to further integrate Facebook into people's TV viewing experience, with Facebook comments from friends shown on screen, the ability to recommend programs - even an option to prompt your Facebook pals to switch channels and see what you're seeing.
This is all controlled by a 'social TV dongle' that sits in between your set-top box and your TV.
Such a system would effectively integrate Facebook directly into your TV viewing experience, bringing Facebook more in-line with how Twitter users multi-screen and participate in TV related discussions via show-specific hashtags and real-time chatter.
Honestly, I've no idea how far along this project is - the original patent was filed in September 2015 - but even seeing that Facebook has considered such options provides perspective on their possible, wider plans for Facebook video and live-streaming, and the potential capacity for The Social Network to make Live a more powerful connective device.
Much like Apple TV, an integrated Facebook TV system could provide alerts, on your TV screen, whenever your favorite celebrities or your friends are live-streaming on Facebook, which would, in effect, make Live its own TV channel. TV advertising's long been the pinnacle of audience reach - imagine being able to generate that same reach via Facebook, but cheaper (in terms of both production and promotion), more responsive and available at absolutely any time. Suddenly, you'd see attention on live-streaming ramp up - every brand would take notice, every business would be considering how to do it. DIY celebrities would have a whole new outlet, niche, live-streaming talk-shows could go massive, a whole new set of internet stars would be born. This is what live-streaming advocates are talking about now, the coming future where streaming becomes a genuine entertainment and reach option, when they'll have the upper hand due their established on-platform experience and audience. Right now, they sit at something of a middle ground where streaming hasn't crossed over yet, but an innovation like Facebook TV could tip it over, updates like Periscope's further integration with Twitter move the needle closer to that next stage.
It's not there yet, but it could be on the horizon, and every significant move in live-streaming advances us closer to this possibility.
While this week's Periscope/Twitter announcement may seem small in isolation - it only relates to iOS (Periscope notes that the functionality is coming to Android and web soon), it just means Periscope content will play in-stream - the wider context of the move is significant. Because even if it doesn't lead to any significant boost for Periscope or Twitter, it still advances the wider case for live-streaming a little further, and boosts the value of the offering just that little bit more. And every time that value increases, so too does the potential for real money to be generated by the offering. And when real money's involved, the bigger players pay more attention, and that then increases the evolution of streaming, which moves us, again, closer to it becoming a more valuable, more mainstream tool, with greater benefits for both individuals and brands respectively.
Maybe it's not there yet, but the competition is heating up. At the least, live-streaming's a segment worth paying close attention to.