Periscope Is a Game Changer

On three occasions in the last eleven years I’ve used a website and immediately known it was going to be transformative — Facebook, Twitter, and now Periscope. This is my first column on Periscope, but before I write about Periscope let’s take a quick tour through media distribution and look at how things have changed over time. 

For most of our written history the cost of distributing content has been exceptionally high. In the Middle Ages printed books were once rare works of art. It was so expensive to print books — and literacy was so rare — that books were rare and treasured possessions, literally worth their weight in gold. Then came Gutenberg’s printing press in about 1440. (The reason we call the press, the press is because of the printing press). The cost of printing a book plummeted over the next several hundred years, eventually becoming so affordable that daily newspapers become commonplace. The newspaper, first published on a daily basis in England in 1702, was a great business for nearly three hundred years.

That’s because from a purely business perspective the newspaper existed to deliver ads to readers. That’s what a newspaper was, the first mobile ad. And what was the most lucrative advertisement of all? The classified section. The classifieds were a business bonanza, a license to print money. There was a substantial obstacle to distributing your content — you had to work at a newspaper. No matter how good your written ideas were, it was hard for people to see them unless you had that newspaper connection.  

For hundreds of years nothing much changed in the business model of newspapers. Then the Internet arrived and everything changed all at once. The Internet cut the legs out from under the entrenched business model of newspapers. Craig’s List replaced the classifieds. Newspapers that had long hired thousands of reporters thanks to the fat profit margins of their business, retrenched rapidly. For print media, the Internet was an executioner.

The Internet also executed the music industry — first through piracy and then everyone bought singles instead of full albums; those singles were easily distributed on the Internet. But for all the destruction wrought on newspapers and the music industry by the Internet so far the Internet hasn’t been that transformative to two major media industries — radio and television. I think the time has arrived for Periscope to simultaneously alter both in rapid fashion.  

I’ll explain why shortly, but let’s go back in time a bit to the distant mists of media history — to 2004, and the first time I used a transformative website. The first time I used Facebook was in my law office in 2004. I’d just graduated from Vanderbilt University and in August it swept through the entire Vanderbilt community. Just about everyone signed up within days. You needed a .edu address to register on Facebook then and I remember scrolling through the site and thinking — “This is incredible.”

The initial goal of Facebook wasn’t to share — although Facebook is now the firehose that powers just about every major website’s traffic — it was to connect you with “friends.” It didn’t take a genius to know instinctively that Facebook was going to be everywhere. 

Five years later, in 2009, I signed up for Twitter. Almost immediately I recognized Twitter’s ability to distribute content at no cost. That was important to me because even on the Internet it was easy to lose your audience. I’d jumped from CBS to Deadspin to Fanhouse in the space of two years. By the time I got to Fanhouse, I’d get emails from people who had no idea where I was. That was because back in 2008 most people were still going to the front pages of websites. If your story went up on the front page of CBSSports.com or FanHouse.com it got significantly more readers than stories that didn’t appear on the front page. But someone had to find you online. It was hard work to gain a reliable core of readers.  

Back in 2009, when I signed up for Twitter, I still went to the front pages of websites. By the time I founded Outkick in 2011, I was ready to take a big gamble — distribution of the written word, which even up until the late 1990’s came with significant barriers, was now nonexistent. If you had an audience it didn’t matter where you were any longer. The name on the back of the jersey was more important than the name on the front of the jersey. 

That was a gamble that paid off, Outkick has thrived in a social media environment. In the space of fifteen years the Internet totally changed the marketplace for the written word. It destroyed an existing business model, while creating an entirely new one. Those without the existing cost structure of print media, have thrived. Those with a print media cost structure have withered. But for all the talk of the transformative qualities of the Internet, what parts of media has the Internet not truly changed in a monumental fashion yet? Radio and television.

Both radio and television still exist in a format pretty similar to what they looked like when the Internet rose to prominence in the late 1990’s. Why is that? After all, just like print media radio and television both have incredibly expensive distribution structures. Drive around town and look at the radio towers and television studios in your city. It’s incredibly expensive to distribute radio and television content no matter where you live. A complex and expensive infrastructure surrounds both industries. But is all that distribution cost and infrastructure really necessary in today’s era. 

The reason why print media was the first to be fundamentally altered by the Internet is simple — it doesn’t require much bandwidth to transmit the written word online. Print media was the first to come under assault by the Internet not because newspapers were doing a horribly bad job of serving their communities — although some were — it was because print distribution became possible online long before radio and TV distribution. Anyone who tried to download pictures or videos or audio in the early 2000’s knows how frustrating that experience could be. Hell, try to do it now with a wonky wifi signal and you’re liable to pull your hair out.

But download speeds are surging in this country and the technology infrastructure is such that I’m convinced Periscope can and will fuse radio and TV with distribution through our cell phones. The result will be rapid transformation coming soon to both industries. Hell, I’m so confident in what Periscope can do that I’ve gone back in and bought more Twitter stock even as the stock price has fallen. (Twitter owns Periscope). 

This month I tried Periscope for the first time and the first time I used it I had a Facebook and Twitter experience — just like those two websites I’m convinced Periscope is going to change everything. To put it simply, Periscope makes every person a television network. It does this by turning your iPhone into a video camera and transmitting whatever your camera is showing to an audience of people who jump onto your feed.

Periscope is set up to distribute through Twitter. (It has competitors, namely Meerkat, but I’ve preferred the Periscope apps embedded relationship with Twitter because it allows you to distribute your streams to those who are already following you on Twitter. Wedding the distribution to an existing distribution model that people are already comfortable using on their phones is a substantial competitive advantage. Will Facebook buy Meerkat or create its own video streaming application? We’ll see. I’d bet yes.) Viewers can ask live questions or comment on what they’re seeing on screen and the host or hosts can respond and interact. 

Many of the Periscope articles so far have focused on the threat of piracy — there were many illegal streams of Mayweather-Pacquiao on the site — but I think that threat’s mostly overblown. No one is going to choose to watch a Periscope video feed from inside a sporting event over an HD television feed of that same event. What people will watch Periscope for is the things that aren’t offered on a television right now. For instance, why couldn’t you turn down your television and listen to Outkick call a big football game instead of the announcers for the game? Could footage from a tailgate before an SEC football game, say, do really well on the site? Of course. Why couldn’t I do a post-game show after a big college football game and draw an audience that wants to hear an entertaining Outkick breakdown over a more professional studio show analysis? Why couldn’t Todd Fuhrman and I do our own gambling special every week and answer viewer questions in real time? The audience is going to move to Periscope rapidly because the audience is going to continue to fragment. Everyone can consume their own media offerings that fit their particular lifestyle. (If you miss the live stream then Periscope archives the video so you can watch it at a time of your choice.) Why couldn’t my daily radio show air live on Periscope video too?

Put simply, just as blogs made it possible for every person to be a newspaper reporter, Periscope makes everyone a television network. It’s also the ultimate reality television show. Just as news has typically broken first on Twitter, now the news will be accompanied by a live video feed on Periscope from the scene of the event. A tornado is about to hit? You’ll be able to be inside the house with people hiding in the basement. Instead of waiting for a YouTube clip of something that happened live, we’ll all be watching the live stream of the event itself. Yep. Everyone is a network and the camera is always on somewhere.  

If you haven’t used Periscope before — and you have an iPhone — I’d encourage you to download the app and go check out what’s available on the site. I’ve been experimenting with Periscope over the past three weeks and am blown away by what I see. Sure, Periscope needs many improvements — I’m going to make my suggestions next week — but the site is still in its infancy. So far only 3k of you follow me on Periscope — which is a tiny fraction of my followers on Twitter and Facebook — so most of you aren’t using the app at all. But many of you who are using it have come by to watch our weekly Outkick press conferences. And many of those who use Periscope, like me, have quickly become true believers. Each of these Outkick press conferences has had a live audience of around 1500 people each. That’s a tiny audience by television perspectives, but it’s also not a bad one for a site this young. I’m convinced that by the end of football season we’ll be drawing ten thousand or more people to Outkick Periscope events. So will many other people.  

From a business perspective there are three important advantages that Periscope has: 1. It’s live. People just love live events. 2. The distribution cost is virtually zero. I know the cost structure for radio shows and I have a decent understanding for what live television costs. Both are incredibly expensive. As everyone moves toward consuming all their content through their phones, why would anyone need to go to a radio studio to put on a radio show? Why would anyone need to go to a television studio to put on a television show? Periscope offers an opportunity to do both. 3. You can tell exactly how big the audience is and who they are. Since you have to sign up for Periscope, your profile is connected to what you watch. (If you’re on Twitter, it’s the same profile you already have). You think advertisers might like to know exactly who is consuming content so they can direct the perfect ads for you to see? Uh, yeah. The money will follow the audiences. I can foresee a day when companies are sponsoring their own Periscope shows. The Outkick Network brought to you by FanDuel has a nice ring to it.   

Just as Twitter replaced the front page of a website and let readers only follow the people they wanted to read, could Periscope one day replace the radio and television networks and send people to follow the people they want to follow as opposed to the network they’re on? Look out, it just might.

So far television and radio haven’t been changed that much by the Internet.

I’m betting that’s about to change.

In a hurry.     

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.