Death & sleeping: The bizarre new world of live streaming

What does live streaming mean for society?

“They killed my boyfriend. He’s licensed he’s carried so he’s licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket and he let the officer know that he was that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm…”

The recent live streaming of the dying moments of black man shot by a white police officer sent shock waves and repercussions round the world. And it was strange, uncomfortable footage. Not only because Philando Castile was dying in the seat next to Lavish Reynolds as she spoke to the camera but also because she seemed such a strangely detached broadcaster, aiming her missive squarely at the mass market – I mean, wouldn’t you tell Facebook “they killed Philando” rather than “they killed my boyfriend”?  

Yet whatever else you choose to infer from all this, it does highlight just how ubiquitous live streaming has become for those who use it. For some it is absolutely natural to broadcast everything.

“Now everyone can be a creator and participate in events as they happen,” Mark Terry-Lush, partner and managing director at social-first communications agency, The Honey Partnership tells us. “It's become routine in some communities to pull out a smartphone whenever the police turn-up or one drives past an accident. It's almost like it didn't happen if it doesn't get filmed.”  

The rise of Bigo Live in Asia takes this one step further. This launched earlier this year and is already the most popular local app available. It mostly blends the softly pornographic with the intensely mundane – like sitting in a chair or sleeping – and is streamed by ordinary teens and young twentysomethings across the region. There is the opportunity to earn rewards – which can be converted into hard cash – and ultimately offers the chance to gamify your life via emoticons.

This is likely to become more and more normal for younger people, which is an odd thought for anyone who reached adulthood before the trend started. It makes me wonder how young teens, who are so used seeing themselves live in such dull settings, will cope with the aging process.

However, this is a fairly subtle concern compared to the impact the pretty appalling material streamed on these channels might have. Vincent Gibson, Founder and CEO of Centric App [iTunes], which helps people discover local streams on a range of platforms says he was “gobsmacked” by volume of filth. And the need to filter this out pushed the app launch back by two months. Pornography aside this included a lot of beheadings, bullying and animal torture.

In fact, Periscope has come under fire because so many socially unacceptable activities – like rape and murder – have found their way onto the airwaves. But it is only the really extreme stories that ever make the news. And it doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine just how many cat-torturing boys or school bullies must be on there. 

The introduction of Centric App also highlights how hard it is to find content on these sites outside your preferences or connections. This makes the content self-selecting which throws up issues of its own, while Centric App itself was driven by a desire to change this. Inspired by an article Douglas Adams wrote in the 90s which argued “we are natural villagers” it takes the view that although large and unwieldy communities have been brought together by the internet we’re still curious about what goes on in our immediate vicinity.

Naturally, as this becomes more commonplace, marketers are likely to start jumping on the bandwagon more and more. “There is [also] the possibility of localising live streaming, too. Serious weather reports, local incidents, and traffic reports, for instance, could really help to organise communities together. That certainly is an exciting and logical prospect,” suggests Jack Smithson Content Marketing Executive at Curated Digital.

Arik Gaisler, Senior Director, Product Management, Infrastructure at video technology firm Kaltura adds it “opens up the ecosystem to a wide variety of communication and social opportunities”. These include merging artists broadcasting their tunes to the world and presidential debates streamed live on social networks to gain new audiences. It also spells a lot of potential disruption for traditional broadcasters.

On the subject of privacy – which is the nub of concerns around live streaming – there is really too much to tackle here. But Terry-Lush of The Honey Partnership nicely sums up the pros and cons in a way by saying: “For now once something is streamed live it cannot be edited. The truth is out there."



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