After Periscope and Meerkat proved themselves in the boxing ring this weekend, they've got their sights on their next challenge: taking over Washington.
The livestreaming platforms—especially Periscope, which sees more activity than Meerkat—got a lot of attention Saturday during the "fight of the century," a high-profile boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao that was selling for $100 on regular Pay-Per-View.
Copyright issues aside, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, who bought Periscope and launched it in March, declared Periscope the weekend's victor.
When Meerkat and Periscope rolled out within a month of one another, they generated a lot of excitement and talk in the political arena about how they could change campaigning forever. Almost immediately, as with any buzzy new app, questions arose about the substance behind the hype. A popular inside joke on the platform became to ask (or demand) to see the contents of the broadcaster's refrigerator—perhaps not the makings of a social platform with staying power.
But this weekend was a demonstration of the platforms' potential: People are willing to watch imperfect livestreams on their phones.
Dan Pfeiffer, former senior Obama aide and current livestreaming-in-politics evangelist, tweeted Sunday that the vivid chatter over Meerkat and Periscope about the boxing match is "why the potential for live video apps to alter the media and political landscape is so great."
Periscope and Meerkat "erase a lot of the structural advantages of the big media companies by giving people the ability to stream quality video with just their phones," Pfeiffer said in an email Tuesday. "I think this is similar to the impact that Blogger and the self publishing platforms had on the print media.
"The boxing match is a great example of the democratizing effect of the technology," he continued. "The potential for politics is tremendous, because it gives campaigns the ability to broadcast their own content."
Ben Rubin, Meerkat's CEO, has his sights set high. "Our dream is that Obama speaks to the nation from his phone and takes comments," Rubin told National Journal in March.
A Twitter spokesman said Tuesday the company pitched Periscope to politicians and candidates as a political tool when it was first released. It worked: Candidates eager to connect with potential voters—especially the young, tech-savvy demographic—are hopping on the livestreaming bandwagon.
Among Republican candidates, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz have all streamed campaign speeches on the platform, according to their campaigns. And Democrat Bernie Sanders broadcast the announcement of his campaign last Thursday on Periscope.
But livestreaming can go beyond straightforward speech broadcasts to take on a more personal tone. A spokesman for the Sanders campaign said the senator is considering using livestreaming to capture "behind the scenes" footage in the coming weeks. And Carly Fiorina, the race's latest Republican entrant, took questions at a live Q&A Monday afternoon.
Fiorina's Periscope broadcast drew more than 500 viewers from the U.S. and abroad, who submitted questions that ranged from the serious ("Why don't you talk about wealth inequality?") to the frivolous ("What's your favorite knock-knock joke?"—a question for which Fiorina didn't have an answer prepared).
"We will do this again, and regularly as the campaign goes on," Fiorina said at the end of the session. The candidate is no stranger to technology: She used to be the CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
And for the streaming services, politics is a chance to move the conversation beyond pirating expensive content.
The publicity around Periscope-enabled piracy is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the chatter around the app is another boost to its media profile, and a mainstream stamp of approval for an app that's only a month old. (Tweets tagged #periscope peaked on the day of the fight with over 46,000 tweets, according to Topsy, a social-analytics platform. There were just under half that many tweets tagged #meerkat that day.)
On the other hand, if the fight's licensed broadcasters choose to sue Periscope—or the users responsible for illegally streaming the match—the app's developers could face their first real hurdle. CNN has already dubbed the service "the new Napster," comparing it to the music-sharing giant that fell to copyright complaints in 2001.
Users who wanted to watch the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight for free over the weekend had no trouble doing so. One fan found herself on a Spanish-language Periscope stream of the fight—along with 10,000 others.
During the fight, HBO and Showtime asked livestreaming platforms to take down illegal streams, and Periscope ended 30 broadcasts "within minutes," said Kayvon Beykpour, the company's cofounder.
"From a DMCA process perspective, we were ready," Beykpour said at TechCrunch's Disrupt NY event, referring to a copyright law that requires online platforms to have a working takedown process for illegal content. "We knew that we had to be well-staffed, and we were."
A spokesman for Showtime declined to comment on illegal streams of the fight.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.