Future tech

Periscope vs Facebook Live – the main contenders in the live streaming world square off

Periscope’s Kayvon Beykpour remains unruffled as the world’s biggest social network launches its own smartphone video service, which Facebook says is its fastest-adopted service ever

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2016, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2016, 9:00pm

For a tech executive that has Facebook aiming directly at his business, Kayvon Beykpour exudes a preternatural calm under pressure.

The co-founder of Periscope, Beykpour helped popularise the idea of broadcasting from your smartphone when he and childhood pal Joe Bernstein introduced their live mobile-video app in 2015, quickly amassing 10 million users and announcing in March about 200 million total broadcasts.

Now Facebook has unleashed its own live video streaming service to its entire 1.6 billion-member social network. Facebook says Live is its fastest-growing product ever.

So as the David to Facebook’s Goliath, how’s the 27-year-old Beykpour responding to this threat of digital annihilation?

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“Build a product people love to use,” he says. “Competition is good, but we don’t let it distract us. You don’t want to get into a mode where your product development is based on them.”

That can-do attitude, combined with his photogenic looks and personable style, have helped turn Beykpour into one of the tech industry’s more visible figures, appearing recently on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, hanging out backstage at The Daily Show with host Trevor Noah and invited to visit the White House (live streamed by Beykpour, of course.)

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Beykpour grew up a computer geek in California, the only child of Iranian immigrants. As teens, he and Bernstein created mobile apps for schools and in 2009, at age 20, sold their Terriblyclever company for a reported US$4 million. In 2015, the pair picked up their biggest payday yet. Twitter paid US$86 million when it acquired Periscope (and another app, Niche) several weeks before Periscope launched.

Beykpour says his inspiration for Periscope came in 2014, when he was scheduled to travel to Turkey during a time of protests. He tried to find a webcam or something that would show him what the scene there was like live.

Thus, the idea for Periscope. “I wanted to drop a pin and have someone show me what’s happening there. Why can’t I see Turkey through someone’s eyes and ears?”

His idea was not a photo or video programme, “but a teleportation app”.

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A year after launch, Beykpour is still the chief executive and Periscope is fitting neatly into Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey’s positioning of the social media service as the No. 1 source for live news and updates. It’s not unusual to get an update from Periscope or Beykpour (@kayvz) at all hours of the day or night, from protests, concerts or big sporting events around the world.

Twitter made Periscope and its staff of 44 a bigger part of its universe this year by having live video feeds show up directly in tweets. Beykpour joined the Twitter management team. Despite these steps, Twitter, which has had a mixed record with acquisitions, has promised to keep it fairly independent.

“We benefit from having two really strong brands at the top of the app stores,” says Dorsey.

In other words, he’s not looking at folding the brand and renaming it Twitter Video.

Standalone or not, Periscope is going head-to-head with Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s giant social network that’s left Twitter in the dust when it comes to user growth, one of the key metrics Wall Street tracks to forecast future revenues and profits.

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Facebook is pouring its massive resources into live video, turning to high-profile celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vin Diesel to help popularise the concept and show up in news feeds.

“Make no mistake, Facebook is gunning to take out Periscope and also Snapchat,” says Brian Solis, an analyst with the Prophet Co.’s Altimeter Group research firm. “He [Beykpour] needs to take it very seriously.”

Beykpour says the secret sauce for Periscope is the ability for users to engage with its broadcasts, live.

On Periscope, communication tools include a large chat window, and colourful hearts that pop up on the right side of the screen, signifying that viewers are enjoying the broadcast.

“This is why the percentage of people who comment on Periscope is so high,” he says. “And that’s not the same for other solutions,“ he adds.

Meanwhile, analysts say there’s probably room for both Periscope and Facebook Live to coexist.

“Facebook is for social networks, conversations with your friends,” says Altimeter’s Solis. “Periscope is about the live web, it’s about what’s happening in the moment, where Facebook is about what are my friends doing.”

As a unit of Twitter, Periscope brings high-profile attention to a social media service struggling to add more users.

Facebook, for instance, has three of the top 10 apps in Apple’s most downloaded chart: Facebook Messenger (no. 3), Facebook (no. 5) and Instagram (no. 6), to Twitter’s no. 30 and Periscope’s no. 71 (as well as Twitter’s once-strong Vine for silly video loops, now at no. 195). Apple did name Periscope its “App of the Year” in 2015.

Carter Mansbach, who runs the Jupiter Wealth Strategies market research firm, thinks Twitter can eventually make money from Periscope, once the audience size grows substantially. More immediately, Beykpour needs to appeal to the next generation – teens. (This is a market rivals such as YouNow and Stre.am have been pursuing.)

Periscope “needs to focus on the future”, says Mansbach. Twitter has a cool following of high school and college kids, but Periscope isn’t on their radar. They need to make it more Snapchatty – goofy, silly, fun.”

Meanwhile, Beykpour bristles at the idea, shared by some in tech, that Periscope is for the “technorati” while Facebook appeals to the masses.

“That is so far from the truth,” Beykpour says, whipping open his app and counting the pins on a global map in the app showing where broadcasts are currently taking place.

He points to multiple broadcasts in France at that moment. “We’re not building a tool for techno-people in San Francisco – we want to reach people around the world, who use the app every day to see the seven natural wonders of the world.”

Tribune News Service