Pop Culture

Livestreaming is great, but cannot beat live experience

While apps such as Periscope and Meerkat present an unaltered reality, there is nothing like being in the thick of the action

In June, tennis great Roger Federer hosted a walking tour of Wimbledon, from the hallowed centre court through the All England Club, using the Periscope app on a smartphone.

There was no publicist micro-managing what he said throughout the almost 17-minute broadcast - he spoke candidly into the phone about being a ball boy in the 1990s, shared Wimbledon trivia and gave a shout-out to Australian tennis star Lleyton Hewitt, who happened to be practising on an adjacent court.

For most tennis fans, the undoubted highlight of the stream was taking a look at the holding room adjacent to centre court, which is off-limits to the hoi polloi.

"Every time I step in here, it feels special," Federer says, almost breathlessly, before showing viewers the famed line from Rudyard Kipling's poem If that is found above the door: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same..."

Livestreaming services such as Periscope and Meerkat have given the man on the street unprecedented access to behind-the-scenes footage as it happens, in real time - lifting the veil on the mystery of the backstage, on set or behind velvet ropes.

Although such livestreaming experiences are shared with the hundreds or even thousands of others who tune in, they still manage to feel intimate and special - as if you are being led to the VIP section of a club, where you get one-on-one time with your celebrity of choice.

Frequent celebrity users include motivational guru Deepak Chopra, who checks in on Periscope, an app owned by Twitter, from whichever city he is in at the moment, to discuss the state of one's chakras.

You don't even have to be at one of his conferences to ask him a question - just do so in the chat.

Brands are also taking to Periscope to forge a more personal relationship with customers.

H&M most recently livestreamed the entire Balmain x H&M fashion show from New York City, with a front-and-centre view of It-models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid sashaying down the runway.

Hadid is fond of doing live Q&A sessions via Periscope, where she answers questions such as what her favourite song by her BFF Taylor Swift is (Clean, from the album, 1989, for the record).

Since "scopes" are filmed on a smartphone, followers do not enjoy a high-definition experience.

Some streams can be quite grotty and patchy, as the services rely on a strong Wi-Fi connection to work effectively.

But that is the beauty of a Periscope stream. As a viewer, you are being presented with an unfiltered, unaltered reality. For celebrities who use it, there is little to no chance for multiple takes.

Sure, they can stop the broadcast at any point, but the scope still eliminates the option of being able to choose from hundreds of shots or layering on filters and edits for the perfect Instagram photograph.

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "straight from the horse's mouth".

The question, then, might be: Do you want everything from the horse's mouth?

There comes a point when the lifting of the veil spills over into the land of Too Much Information (TMI).

American TV host Ellen DeGeneres' team from her talk show occasionally livestream production meetings, namely their weekly viral video meetings where the team, sans Ellen, watch viral videos that are trending on the Internet.

Many of these videos - a cat bopping along to Drake's Hotline Bling, a toddler lying to his mother about stealing a cupcake with frosting plastered all over his mouth - make it to the show eventually.

If you are privy to these Periscope streams, the surprise is ruined somewhat as you, quite literally, saw that coming.

Yet, TMI or not, users of livestreaming services may hesitate to switch off the notifications on their apps.

Periscope plays on social media junkies' complex of FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out. Viewers have to tune in "live" and need to do so right away or they might miss it. Like the ephemeral Snapchat, Periscope streams last for only 24 hours.

Perhaps, it is better that way. Supermodel Tyra Banks attempting to sing old-school Janet Jackson songs while stuck in traffic was amusing and endearing at first, then veered into crazy, annoying territory.

While it was affirmation that Banks' larger-than-life persona is true to her screen personality as host of America's Next Top Model, I regretted tuning in to that stream.

But all is forgiven when you catch the next gem of a livestream. For the regular Joes and Janes, it is almost like teleportation. You are beamed across the world and get to experience the event through your phone screen - whether it is chatting with a stranger who is streaming while walking down Oxford Street in London or with someone who is observing a minute of silence at the Place de la Republique in memory of the victims of the recent Paris terror attacks - you experience the moment with them.

For all of livestreaming's benefits, you may still hear Luddites bemoaning the day everyone lives life through his phone or that there is no more mystery in this world as everything appears to be livestreamed, tweeted or Instagrammed.

Those fears are baseless. Livestreaming is not life - anyone attending his first Barclays Premier League match will tell you.

Until humans can be beamed up a la Captain Kirk to the Enterprise in Star Trek, no Periscope stream can replicate the live experience, even if it means one is sitting in the nosebleed section of centre court, watching Federer put up a valiant fight against Novak Djokovic at a Wimbledon final.

I would take that over watching it on a 14cm-long iPhone screen any day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Livestreaming is great, but cannot beat live experience'. Print Edition | Subscribe