Jul 28, 2015 · 5 minutes

Last week in the new CNBC offices by the San Francisco waterfront, a panel was convened to discuss the future of journalism.

Yawns were forestalled by the inclusion of Kayvon Beykpour, the co-founder and CEO of Twitter-owned live-streaming app Periscope.

The talk was moderated by Muck Rack’s Greg Galant and rounded out with a pair of practicing journalists in CNBC’s Jon Fortt and Re/Code’s James Temple.

In other words: the creator of a journalism/PR connection platform put questions to two journalists united by an old media giant’s new media strategy and a young founder whose feted app may – and this was the premise of the proceedings – "disrupt" the three older men’s industry.

“Social video is now where Twitter was seven years ago,” Galant said at the opening of the conversation. “How will journalists use it?”

A few early journalistic use-cases bubbled up over the course of the next hour or so. There was Katie Couric interviewing stars at the Met Gala and getting verklempt in the presence of George Clooney –such authentic level of engagement!– and Paul Lewis of the Guardian conducting crowd interviews from the civil unrest in Baltimore this April (thankfully, some of the latter can still be watched, on Youtube).

Another use-case offered was Periscope serving as a communications channel between embedded reporters and the newsroom. Temple said that Periscope was used to livestream Re/Code’s livestream coverage of the Ellen Pao trial (on the day Periscope launched).

For the most part though, the conversation remained philosophical.

“What will be interesting is how it shakes out. What will people want to see? Everyone is not as interesting as they think they are. Now we are in the novelty stage, but will it become a habit? What will rise to the top? Will it be people with talent and tripods?” Temple asked.

Beykpour offered some hope that the journalistic profession would survive in a world conquered by his app.

“The vector of journalism is fascinating, to see things happening in real-time, and the best storytellers on the ground are journalists,” he said, perched at a news desk 15 stories above the San Francisco waterfront.

Frequent allusions were made to the difficulties Periscope presents for media gatekeepers.  

“Journalism, and citizen journalism, were basically the genesis of Periscope,” he explained, describing his product-market epiphany while monitoring the 2013 protests in Istanbul to make up-to-the-minute decisions about his travel plans. His favorite newsworthy stream so far? Roger Federer periscoping from the lawn at Wimbledon, and filming a blade of grass at the suggestion of one of his viewers. Neither Temple nor Fortt voiced the horror induced by the thought of newsworthy people broadcasting newsworthily and live without the intervention of an interviewer –but Beykpour’s message was clear: Ignore us at your peril.


Beykpour salaciously hinted at a couple of journalist-friendly features the company may release: the ability to store video beyond 24 hours and to shoot video from the smartphone in landscape view.

"If you’re not going to a Tweet or Instagram after the first day, you’re probably not going to. But a lot of it deserves to live on. What we need to do is find a balance between maintaining the freshness of the app, which I think we have some ideas on how to do, and balance that with giving people the utility in the cases where they want content to be preserved and to share it extensively elsewhere," he said. "I think our users should have the ability to do that."

Later, Fortt pleaded with the entrepreneur.

“Please, landscape view for pros.”

“We’re working on it,” Beykpour assured, but added that his “philosophical conviction” was that “portrait is the future.”

Neither Fortt nor Temple seemed convinced that Periscope was useful, journalistically speaking. And Fortt pointed out that it could be detrimental.

“There is a hesitation not to do what newspapers did on the web in the late ‘90s, which was put it all up for free. There’s a sense of ‘what’s in it for us?’ and caution before we put stuff up there,” Fortt said.

The more immediate beneficiaries of Periscope’s rise are brands. A handful of succesful brand-integrating Periscope streams were cited: Netflix broadcast a guinea pig wandering around a floor divided into two color-zones labeled “Netflix” and “Study” during college finals season (“It was a marketing gimmick and it was fucking brilliant,” Beykpour said.) GE did a five-day “livestreaming bonanza” celebrating drones (“so exciting”.) Al Roker has launched Roker Labs, a marketing agency designed to help brands take advantage of ‘social video.’

The audience in the CNBC studio, composed primarily of communications professionals, took note.

Beykpour also paid tribute to his forbears.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants making you all comfortable with people walking around like this,” Beykpour said, holding his phone out in front of him.

When the talk wrapped up, I asked Beykpour a couple of my own questions.

How will Periscope fend off the Chatroulette moment? (to wit, when its better-intended uses are subsumed by the global community of mostly-male sexual exhibitionists. Beykpour knew precisely what I meant without further explanation.)  

“We do that in two ways. First, by making users associate a Twitter handle and allowing us to use their location, we add friction that keeps people from doing that kind of thing. Secondly, we moderate and boot people who are not following our user agreement. It’s a mixture of machine-based and human. The machine tells us ‘this might be’ and a person confirms it.”

Is there anyone working for Periscope right now, somewhere in the world, looking at a screen and going "that’s a penis, that’s not a penis?"

“I honestly don’t know. We use Twitter’s support systems for that,” he said.

Periscope may not be a panacea for journalism, though it can surely lend its cultural currency to brands. Of course, it may not even survive its launch hype long enough to provide Twitter with a new source of video ad revenue in exchange for the use of its human dick-pickers.

“Ads are the last thing on my mind right now. We are focused entirely on user experience, and Twitter understands that.”


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