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Tackling Tech: NFL Ends Periscope Ban for Teams, But Sets Limits

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Upon further review, the NFL has ended its ban on team use of free mobile live streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat.

However, the league apparently has placed limits on their use by teams, with the streaming of live games still not allowed and with a change to that stipulation far beyond unlikely.

Teams can use the apps a few times a week to capture largely behind-the-scenes footage of training camp drills, weight lifting and chalk talks. This is the type of video that fans seek as it augments TV viewing of on-field game action. Team events outside the stadium and grounds could also be streamed.

The NFL's ban on use of these mobile phone streaming apps, which were launched early last year, is hardly a surprise as businesses have forbidden use of new tech driven wares until they can find a way to safely manage their use and benefit/profit from them. Though not the same, such was and is, still the case with employees' use of their mobile devices for work (Bring Your Own Device –a.k.a BYOD). This raised security and management issues.

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Marketing Might

The NFL is likely still evaluating the two steaming apps as much for their potential good as for their potential threat. That's because Periscope and Meerkat can be effective marketing tools that can be used to generate off-the-field footage that complements game telecasts rather than weakening their value. Hence the move from a 'ban' to a limited-use approach for team use.

But given some coaches' aversion to access to game-related activities, it may likely be some time before we see widespread adoption of these enabling apps in the NFL as a means to give fans 'inside access' to team activities that are in any way related to game prep. Instead, community and charity events with players, cheerleader-staffed events and lifestyle content that cover players outside well outside the football would seem to be naturals for Periscope and Meerkat.

Why the Worry?

Nothing gets the attention of corporation more than things that threaten to undercut or eliminate their core business models.

Many sports leagues and TV networks convulsed when all 12 rounds of the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight in early May were streamed free to the masses using the mobile phone app Periscope – threatening to undermine Showtime's $90-100 pay-per-view business model.

Periscope, which is owned by Twitter, presented a clear and present danger to the sports/TV establishment – and some believe still does. Rolling back bans on NFL teams, most of which generate much of their own content (original) is part of the process as they understand the business model – or lack thereof of Periscope.

Fear Factor

This story goes far beyond the NFL.

Other leagues fear amateur videographers and even credentialed media use these apps to live stream sporting events in similar fashion. The National Hockey League (NHL) quickly banned fans from using the apps for broadcasting before, during or after the game. A media member who used Periscope to broadcast a practice round at the Masters was stripped of her credentials.

Major League Baseball sees no concern given the likelihood of a fan filming the slower than slow-moving game action often over four hours.

Do not, however, expect sports leagues and broadcasters to condone use of the mobile phone free live streaming apps for coverage of games that TV networks, streamers and their own pay application cover as part of their business enterprises.

But banning NFL teams from using Periscope and Meerkat seems a bit much, as who better would understand the potential bottom line ramifications of unwise use of the mobile phone apps than those who share the risk with their TV network partners?

Watching

The league continues to watch for uses of the apps for live streaming of game content which could easily constitute a copyright violation by the videographer. It has reportedly issued several "take down" requests for those who have shot and posted NFL programming without authorization. This activity by fans in the stands could be covered under breach-of-contract rules.

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How it Works

Periscope and Meerkat are applications that consumer can load onto their smartphones. At a sporting event, fans have the ability to record live game action and upload it over strong Wi-Fi connection to a website of their choice for viewing by those not interested in paying to see the event(s) on pay-TV.

What most folks don't know is that these two companies are not the first to provide the capability. Livestream https://livestream.com/ of New York City, has enabled amateur videographers (since roughly 2010) to upload video shot from mobile and other devices to a channel on the company's website.

The difference here is that Livestream doesn't air content, or will remove content whenever there are copyright issues or other concerns over whether the video is pirated. The company's site of channels has been among the first to air video from the uprising in Tehran many years ago, news not captured by TV crews/stations and original content by online personalities.

Ustream http://www.ustream.tv/ has done much the same and was bought late last month by IBM to expand its cloud video services.

It's important to note that Livestream and Ustream charge videographers and other content creators to host and offer their video to the masses. Both offer higher end services to teams, broadcasters and marketers much more – providing all the gear and knowhow needed for them to succeed in their efforts.

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Marketing Might

The NFL is likely still evaluating the two steaming apps as much for their potential good as for their potential threat. That's because Periscope and Meerkat can be effective marketing tools that can be used to generate off-the-field footage that complements game telecasts rather than weakening their value. Hence the move from a 'ban' to a limited-use approach for team use.

But given some coaches' aversion to access to game-related activities, it may likely be some time before we see widespread adoption of these enabling apps in the NFL as a means to give fans 'inside access' to team activities that are in any way related to game prep. Instead, community and charity events with players, cheerleader-staffed events and lifestyle content that cover players outside well outside the football would seem to be naturals for Periscope and Meerkat.

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Risk/Reward?

Some NFL teams used Periscope before the league ban and without risking long-standing revenue streams with their broadcast partners. Major League Soccer's New England Revolution has used Periscope for some pre-game interviews.

Entities beyond sports teams have embraced the use of these apps for wide distribution of relevant events that otherwise receive limited or no coverage. Recently, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) used Periscope live on Twitter to bring its Super Bowl press conference on February 3rd to a broader audience than likely would have been otherwise possible.

In this use, instead of being a revenue threat, the use of Periscope helped promote knowledge of the union and the goodwill of the Byron White award, which came with a $100,000 check from the NFLPA for the winner's charity of choice. That's spreading the word of both information and works of good. This is news that might not make it far beyond the league-owned NFL Network channel and inner player and league circles.

The Bottom Line

This situation is the epitome of a technology balancing act where sports leagues and their broadcast partners have to weigh the potential threats of a product against potential benefits. It would be optimal to avoid the former and cash in on the latter. But that's often easier said than done and almost never happens overnight.

Savvy content creators should be able to work around limitations and restrictions to amass experience with Periscope and Meerkat. But the league's restrictions might have others playing wait-and-see or steering clear of these potentially disruptive mobile phone live streaming apps altogether.

We'll have to wait and see too.

Stay tuned.

Bob Wallace is a technology journalist with over 30 years of experience explaining how new services, apps, consumer electronic devices and video sources are reshaping the world of communications as we know it. Wallace has specific expertise in explaining how and why advances in technology redefine the way sports fans interact with their league, teams, players and each other. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.

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