Will Periscope and Other Live-Streaming Apps Kill the Cable TV Star?

Cable programmers have one more thing to worry about: the rise of a new crop of live-broadcasting stars on apps like Periscope and Meerkat

Periscope takes on the world (Periscope)
If you’ve used live-streaming apps like Periscope or Meerkat, you’ve seen the future. In recent weeks, millions of people around the globe have quickly mastered the act of broadcasting live from their phones — anytime, anywhere. It’s as simple as taking a picture, addictive and a far cry from costly traditional television production.
With the power to broadcast live now in everyone’s hands, those high barriers to entry are gone.

So far, television outlets have largely used Periscope in a manner resembling their strategies on Twitter, which owns Periscope — as a complementary tool. On-air television talent often take viewers on behind-the-scenes tours and conduct “Ask Me Anything” sessions. While these live streams can be effective, they’re competing with a whole new world of content originating on Periscope. That content may chip away at the live audiences currently tuning in to some of cable’s lesser-watched channels.

What Actually Happens on Periscope?

Much of the press surrounding Periscope has focused on the broadcasts themselves, as opposed to the communities being built around live streams. Those communities are one of the app’s driving forces, creating a more engaging experience than what you’d get watching “Do-It-Yourself” shows hidden in cable’s nosebleed section.

Popular Periscope users attract large crowds of global viewers each day. They can acknowledge those viewers because user names pop up in the broadcasts. Popular Periscope users are often viewers themselves, showing up in the live streams of others to say hello and show support, which frequently leads to side conversations in the comments section, similar to a chat room.

Comparatively, linear TV viewing is often described as a “lean-back” experience, because there’s not much a viewer can do to engage with the content they’re watching.

The Power of People 

For insight into how live streaming may chip away at cable audiences, look no further than the YouTube ecosystem. YouTube audience members often become creators themselves. DEFY Media, home to YouTube brands like Smosh, Break and Screen Junkies, recently conducted an in-depth millennial study with Hunter Qualitative and KnoWhy Research. More than half of the 13- to 24-year-olds polled said they were confident they could become YouTube stars — only 40 percent felt the same way about becoming a TV or film star.

Beyond millennials, live-streaming apps like Periscope attract audiences in the demographic that watches traditional television. Now that some of them are busy broadcasting themselves, will they still have time in their day for cable TV?

So What Do You Need to Watch Live on Television?

Globally, television audiences have embraced on-demand viewing of scripted programming, using DVRs and services like Netflix. At a recent media conference, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said that trend will result in linear television becoming “more linear  — more about the events, awards shows, live sports.” Indeed, traditional broadcasters have big events locked up for years to come. CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN have NFL rights into 2022. ABC has the rights to the Oscars until 2020.

Outside of those big events (and a few hit shows, like “The Walking Dead”), it feels like a good chunk of the cable channel audience is up for grabs. Programmers are battling the reality that we spend huge amounts of time on our smartphones.

And with apps like Meerkat and Periscope sending notifications to users when each new live stream broadcast begins, the stage is set for a massive shift in viewing.