Hashtags and handles on TV news played a big role in taking Twitter mainstream. Now TV news networks are experimenting with Twitter's latest social tool: the live-streaming app Periscope.
The news business is all about live video, and networks are testing a host of new apps, including Meerkat, but their history with Twitter is giving Periscope a leg up in the news business. "You could say I'm Team Periscope," said David Collier, anchor at KLBK-TV, a CBS affiliate in Lubbock, Texas, who downloaded Periscope last week and started to use it in the newsroom.
It's still in the early days, and TV news producers contacted by International Business Times said they're still figuring out how to use the apps and incorporate them into programming. “Anyone on week two with a set strategy would be short-minded,” said CNN's head of social media strategy, Samantha Barry. “We create more content than we can ever put on air or online."
The "CBS Evening News" used Periscope Wednesday to preview its 6:30 broadcast with Scott Pelley. The stream showed someone learning on the job, initially holding the phone horizontally (the comments stream vertically), but eventually figuring it out and interviewing a cameraman. CBS has no strategy for the app, but its reporters are starting to use it.
Like a lot of people at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March, CNN journalists experimented with live Meerkat dispatches. Ashley Codianni, senior producer and digital correspondent at CNN Politics, was one of them, but when Twitter launched Periscope the next week, Codianni instructed other reporters on the CNN Politics team to use that app specifically.
Why? Periscope broadcasts have a 24-hour playback period instead of disappearing as in Meerkat.
For political reporting, Codianni said she sees the tool as necessary. Messages via Twitter no longer need to be limited to 140-character tweets, she said. Now, reporters can engage with an outside audience and respond to questions via video, which she did Tuesday while covering a town hall meeting with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. For example, one viewer asked for a close-up on the timer on Christie’s podium.
“It’s really the first time our readers can be in the room with a reporter who’s there,” Codianni said.
How CNN, Fox News, NBC and the rest end up using -- or not using -- live-streaming apps could end up being decisive in how they're able to build critical mass. None other than Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey credited journalists for the company's quick rise from South by Southwest darling to the mainstream.
5/Journalists were a big part of why we grew so quickly and still a big reason why people use Twitter: news. It's a natural fit.
â€” Jack (@jack) March 21, 2015
Would Joe the Plumber be using Twitter if not for ubiquitous pleas to interact with hashtags on Fox News? It's possible, but it didn't hurt.
CNN’s Barry said she saw the live-streaming apps as a key for audience engagement. "This is another avenue to show how we have reporters in every major area,” she said. When the broadcast is over, that doesn’t mean the live reporting has to be. Barry said the network hasn't given Periscope or Meerkat any on-air callouts; rather, reporters have publicized their live streams via Twitter.
Additionally, CNN’s Codianni said the app has been useful to inform her reporting and engage her audience before and after events. Prior to Christie’s town hall on Tuesday, Codianni used Periscope to interview attendees, and afterward, she broadcast an explainer, giving readers a short gist of what the town hall was about. “It’s an easy and a seamless way to connect with a social audience,” Codianni said.
Back in the office, CNN Politics has been using live streaming daily in its coverage with behind-the-scenes looks and chats with reporters. The tools have converted and encouraged any journalist to become a broadcaster without expensive equipment.
The apps have also permeated smaller news networks, even without a corporatewide push. KLBK-TV anchor Collier incorporated them in his news coverage Wednesday night with behind-the-scenes footage and teasing news segments.
"It's going to be interesting in seeing how long [Meerkat] lasts," he said. "I did one test on Meerkat and didn’t like it as much."
Collier sees the live-streaming app as having great potential in reporting breaking news, notably during severe weather events. Periscope also can also be a tool for continued coverage and engagement with viewers when the local broadcasts are cancelled due to other CBS network events.
Canada’s CBC also has been encouraging its reporters to use the app on the field. “We're always looking to give our reporters any and all tools that will help them tell stories in more immediate and immersive ways,” Michael Bolen, the senior producer of social media and trends at CBC News, told Poynter.
The CBC used Periscope to live-stream a state of the city address by the mayor of Kitchener, Ontario, last week. CBC reporters have used the app for everything from walking down the street to attending a sports game. And like other networks, the CBC isn’t tying the audience to one app. Instead, the reporters themselves have full control. CBC’s Rosemary Barton gave Meerkat a whirl while conducting a daily politics show.
“We are obsessed with live-streaming,” Julian March, senior vice president of innovation and digital strategy at NBC, told International Business Times.
In fact, in 2013 NBC News acquired an early-stage service for live-streaming from mobile phones called Stringwire. Meerkat and Periscope both integrate comments from viewers that allow broadcasters to immediately respond. That’s a feature that Stringwire doesn’t have -- at least not yet.
“We’re really keen on the different branches of the network experimenting and using all three of them,” March said. “You have to play with them to see what works and what doesn’t.”
March said NBC will be seeing what app the audience is most attracted to. NBC hasn’t set any firm policy yet, but March said it has been testing Periscope at a lunch-hour special. “It’s almost like an A/B test. It’s part of the experimentation," March said. "We’ll see which ones give us the best response."