Live-streaming services provide a new way to get content for free. But maybe that’s not the only reason so many people were watching.
Isaac Brekken / AP
On Saturday night, Periscope had a moment. The livestreaming app from Twitter went into the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight with HBO to go behind the scenes. But it wasn't the Periscope-hosted peak into Manny Pacquiao's locker room people were talking about. It was the widespread proliferation of bootleg Periscope and Meerkat streams, where the world came together for one big fight party hosted on tiny smartphone screens.
The fight itself was a perfect inflection point for live streaming social video. Periscope and Meerkat offered an experience everyone was talking about, yet that cost nearly $100, for free. It felt like a cheat code. What's more, it offered you a way to talk about the fight, to participate in it, with other people in real time. It was another triumph of the second screen, another indication that our smartphones are actually the first screen, and the TV is the second. We don't just want to listen to commentary, we want to be a part of it. We don't just want to watch anymore, we want to participate.
While much is being made of the piracy issue here — and there is a piracy issue here — Saturday's fight represented something else too. It was a rare scenario: a pay-per-view spectacle that appealed to a wide casual audience. This fight was a big enough deal that lots of people wanted to talk about it, even if they weren't willing to pay $100 to see it.
Last night's Periscoping (and Meerkatting) felt fresh and interesting — rules were being invented on the fly, people were figuring out a new medium in real time. And the most promising part of it wasn't the feeling of getting something for free, it was the opportunity to engage with other people in a new way. While the streams of purloined pixels received the most attention, there were plenty of people just talking. Selfies of talking heads describing, commenting on, and reacting to the fight. It was pretty clear, watching these streams, that this behavior isn't going to be limited to pay-per-view. If people are doing it for the interaction, they will Periscope all kinds of live events on network TV, not just paywalled, one-time spectacles.