Live stream going mainstream

Apps which allow live video streaming, such as Snapchat and Periscope, are the big thing in social media

In the not very distant past, a periscope was something you would find sticking out of a submarine and snapping was something you likely did with your fingers.

But fast forward to 2015 and those same words have come to mean something else in the slippery, fast-moving world of social media.

Periscope is the name of a live video streaming app where you can watch anything from short private videos to full-length fashion shows as they occur in real time.

To "snap" something, in youth lingo, means to post a short video clip of your life on the app Snapchat.

Yup, photos are over. Videos are in.

If you are still posting a picture of your burger to Instagram and giving a Facebook update on its deliciousness, you are not keeping up with social media trends.

Now, you post a video of you eating it. And then the video disappears in, depending on the app you are using, between 10 seconds and 24 hours.

Periscope and Snapchat are two of the most popular apps in the video revolution overtaking social media. Because smartphones and high-speed Internet are ubiquitous, videos can be produced and watched on the cheap.

Social media users these days are likely to "snap" multiple times throughout the day, ending up with 15-second videos that provide an off-the-cuff and spontaneous glimpse into their daily lives.

Bystanders are whipping out their cellphones and sharing what they see with Periscope - everything from the contents of their fridge to dramatic events such as the collapse of a building in New York City's East Village, which took place the same day as the launch of the app on March 26.

Most notably, a lot of the content on these apps is ephemeral, meaning you either catch it within 24 hours or it is gone forever.

While Snapchat is still far from as big as traditional social media platform Facebook, which has more than a billion users worldwide, it boasts the fastest growth of all current social media portals - reporting more than 100 million active users posting more than 400 million snaps a day.

As for Periscope, more than 10 million users watch over 40 years of video through the app a day, according to a statement released by the company in August.

But what are the implications now that anyone with a smartphone can be a videographer? And is giving anyone the access to stream and share video content always for the best?

  • App appeal

    As someone who works in public relations, I'm interested to see how brands will approach Snapchat as a marketing platform. Because you can't see how many followers the person has or how many times a snaphas been viewed, measuring the reach of a snap is much harder.''

    MR HAZWAN NORLY, 24, public relations executive

    I like that people are less worried about followers and number of likes on Snapchat. It makes the whole platform seem a lot more informal. I like that my friends and I have a place to hang loose and share random things.''

    MS DEBBIE NG, 21, design student at National Technological University

    There's definitely more of a disconnect when you post a photo on Instagram because the pictures tend to be more carefully curated. I like the personal connection that Snapchat facilitates - it's what sets it apart from other social networking portals.''

    MR AHMAD NOORFAHMY, 20, law student at Singapore Management University

    I snap anywhere between 10 and 20 times a day, mostly of funny things I see, food I'm eating and my cat. It's a fun way to share my life, especially since the videos are gone in 24 hours.''

    MS FARAH NOH, 30, store manager

The mobile video revolution

Back in 2013, a little-known app called Snapchat - which allows people to send images and videos that disappear forever moments after viewing - rebuffed Facebook's US$3-billion buyout offer.

Two years later, it seems that Snapchat is having the last laugh.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the app is valued at US$16 billion (S$22.5 billion) and has raised more than US$1.2 billion in funding as of last month.

Its financials make it the fifth highest-valued private venture- backed company in the world, putting it in the same company as start-up successes such as Uber and Airbnb.

And even though it remains without a definitive revenue stream, it has the fastest-growing user base of any social media site, a majority of whom are in the 14 to 25 age group that is coveted by advertisers. In contrast, Facebook's user base averages around 40 years old.

Snapchat's newest feature, called Discover, has seen it partner notable publishers, including CNN, Yahoo, Vice and National Geographic. Through these content channels, publishers can post news stories daily and users can get news without leaving the app.

Periscope, which was acquired by Twitter in January for an undisclosed sum, has become a video extension of tweeting. The app allows people to capture or watch live video broadcasts on their smartphones.

Unlike the passivity of watching television or videos on YouTube, Periscope is active. While watching a live stream through the app, viewers are able to comment, ask questions and "heart" broadcasts in real time, letting the person behind the recording know the immediate audience reaction.

Thanks to Periscope's access to Twitter's population, users can also send a push notification to their Twitter followers when they begin to live stream, enticing followers to either tune in or miss out. Unless saved, streams appear on the app for 24 hours before they disappear.

Snapchat and Periscope are not the only ones on the mobile live video streaming market.

Periscope's biggest rival, Meerkat - which was released a week earlier but had many of its functions blocked on Twitter after the launch of Periscope - also offers live stream functions, just without the option to save videos for later.

And coming out of South Korea, an app known simply as V broadcasts daily videos featuring top K-pop talent such as boyband BigBang.

Though users cannot post their own content through the app like they can on Periscope and Snapchat, they can still comment on and "heart" the broadcasts while they watch them, giving fans a chance to interact with their favourite stars in a whole new way.

Now you see it, now you don't

The element of getting news in real time is the apps' biggest draw.

Mr Simon Kemp, 37, regional managing partner at social media consultancy, We Are Social, says that when it comes to mobile live streaming, the appeal is in the immediacy of the content.

"The spontaneity that video offers gives celebrities, brands and even the average Joe a chance to get immediate feedback about the content they're putting out there," he says.

"It keeps users tied to the app and incentivises checking in in a different way from traditional platforms of social media such as Facebook or Instagram."

It is a very attractive feature to young users.

Polytechnic student Monica Heng, 20, started using Periscope in June to watch fashion shows streamed live. She says: "Lots of these live streams are not saved and can't be replayed, so they entice me to check what is available every day."

Public relations executive Hazwan Norly, 24, likes how Snapchat's content is ephemeral, which allows him to be "more random and in the moment".

He has a group of about 20 close friends on Snapchat.

He says: "It's a fun way to document my day and see what other people are up to, while feeling safe in the knowledge that everything I upload will be deleted in 24 hours."

So what is Kylie Jenner up to today?

Celebrities love Snapchat and Periscope. Famous early adopters turned evangelists are reality star Kylie Jenner, singer Ariana Grande and actor Jared Leto.

For store manager Farah Noh, 30, Snapchat allows her to peep into the lives of celebrities such as singer Rihanna, "who are a lot more relaxed in their snaps compared to their Instagram posts", she says.

National serviceman Richmond Goh, 19, agrees, saying he has been using V and Snapchat for the past year to follow news of his favourite K-pop stars, DJs such as Martin Garrix and Avicii, and MediaCorp actresses Zoe Tay and Fann Wong.

"It's so much more personal than just pictures or status updates - plus I like being immediately privy to insider information such as new song releases," he says.

Loyal Snapchat and Periscope users are definitely seeing the benefits.

In February, Madonna premiered her first music video from her new album on Snapchat. Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) director James Gunn used Periscope to answer fan questions in April and gave exclusive details about the upcoming sequel to the Marvel blockbuster.

Brands are jumping on the bandwagon too. Some use Snapchat and Periscope to debut new products and events to the apps' young millennial users.

Luxury British fashion house, Burberry, for example, showcased its spring/summer 2016 collection on Snapchat in September - ahead of its show at the 2015 London Fashion Week.

In the United States, brands such as music streaming service Spotify and soft-drink Mountain Dew have used Periscope to engage with their followers.

In Singapore, brands are still cautious about using these apps to market their products.

However, Mr Steve Kalifowitz, brand strategy and advocacy lead at Twitter Singapore, is optimistic, saying he is seeing interest from industries such as telecommunications and finance as well as consumer brands. "Four in 10 users of Twitter in Singapore are using video inside the app, so the movement to Periscope is very natural. We're hoping to see the first few brands experiment with using the app in South-east Asia within the next two months."

Blurred lines

Video streaming raises legal issues when users stream copyrighted or licensed content without receiving permission.

Take, for instance, the celebrated match between boxing legends Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao in May, when numerous Periscope users live streamed the game (which was broadcast under pay-per-view agreements) for free on Twitter.

Mr Jonathan Kok, 52, partner in the Intellectual Property and Technology Practice at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP, says that "if individuals stream or distribute content on Periscope or Snapchat with copyrighted material - during a concert or sporting event, for example - the organisers of the event who own the broadcast rights have the right to go after them for copyright infringements."

But for now, it seems that the benefits of live streaming greatly outweigh the cons.

Case in point? In April, 40 million people from around the world tuned in to Snapchat to watch a live stream of the annual Californian music festival Coachella. This is nearly double the 24.8 million television views drawn by the Grammy Awards ceremony in January.

Such solid numbers suggest that the tide is slowly turning towards the digital sphere, with video live streaming leading the charge.

If Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are about putting your most-filtered and carefully curated face forward, then the ephemeral nature of this next generation of social networking promises to do the exact opposite: Allow users to see, hear and comment on life - as it unfolds in real time.

Snapchat and Periscope explained


What: The app launched as an ephemeral photo-sending service in 2011 and immediately found itself stereotyped as an app for teens to send one another racy pictures. It has since evolved into a video chat-style app, offering users the chance to send both photos and videos that expire in a few seconds.

Singer Ariana Grande leaves her followers doodled filled videos and images about her life and music in an impromptu style on Snapchat.

Who: Stanford dropout and chief executive Evan Spiegel is 25 and his senior from college, chief technical officer Bobby Murphy, is 27. They were members of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity at Stanford.

Why: The app shot to stardom in 2013 when Snapchat famously turned down a US$3-billion buyout offer from social media giant Facebook. It has since raised more than US$1.2 billion (S$1.69 billion) in funding. As of last month, it is valued at US$16 billion, making it the fifth highest-valued private venture-backed company in the world,

Reach: The social media platform is reported to be the fastest-growing right now, with more than 100 million active users who send more than 400 million snaps daily.

Key events: In July, Snapchat's decision to livestream Ramadan prayers in Mecca was a global hit among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It provided a rare view of the sacred Haj pilgrimage, leading to more than a million tweets with the viral hashtag #Mecca_live.


What: Periscope is a live video streaming app which was acquired by Twitter in January for an undisclosed amount. The app officially launched on March 26.

Who: Stanford graduate Kayvon Beykpour, 27, and co-founder Joe Bernstein.

The layout of Periscope lets users comment on the stream and send hearts if they like what they see which is visible in real time to the person doing the recording.

Why: The app launched a week after rival live- streaming app Meerkat, but offered a cleaner layout with the option to save streams after they have been watched.

Reach: Within a week, the app captured a million registered users and by August, was reporting more than 10 million users who were watching more than 40 hours of video daily.

Key events: It has been used to live stream numerous fashion and musical events. Periscope also played a prominent role in the Baltimore protests in April that were sparked by the death of a black man while in police custody. Journalists from publications such as The Guardian newspaper in Britain used the app to broadcast the unrest.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Live stream going mainstream'. Print Edition | Subscribe