Thinking / Up Periscope

Up Periscope

Periscope and Meerkat have been getting a ton of press lately. Basically, these two services allow anyone to broadcast their own live shots from their smart devices. As Miley Cyrus might say – that’s pretty cool. But live shots are nothing new. They’ve been a staple in the industry in which I began my career (TV news) for a long, long time.

Going live can be extremely powerful in certain situations – when the bombs start going off, or the wall comes down, or a famous football player flees in an SUV. But the technology can also be overused and misapplied.

I want to take you back to the 1980s because I think it might give us a glimpse into what the immediate future might look like for this new breed of tools and the mistakes that are likely to be made with them.

So I’m a few years out of college. George Michael’s "Faith" is playing on the radio about every five minutes. I have a full head of hair. And someone at the TV station where I’m working decides that to get our money’s worth from our new live truck we should do as many live shots as possible.

I remember one in particular. I’d been sent to cover a truck accident that sounded pretty bad on the scanner. The truck was carrying a bunch of steel pipes and was fouling up traffic on one of the main routes through town.

By the time I arrived, the accident had been more or less cleaned up. The semi had merely become stuck when it veered off the side of the road onto some soft ground. And now a giant tow truck was getting ready to tow it away.

I conveyed the information to my assignment editor, but he barked over the two-way that we were sending the live truck.

At 6:00, the anchor pitched to me live, and I remember how ridiculous I felt.

"Well, as you can see," I said as the camera arced away from me to where the accident had been, "traffic is moving pretty freely right now, and the truck has been towed away, but earlier, right where I’m standing (use your imagination here people) the truck was blocking the roadway and …"

We did tons of equally pointless live shots. I’m live at the playground where a boy was abducted last week. I’m live outside the stadium where this Sunday the Browns will face the Steelers. I’m live on the east side of town where tonight we’re expected to get two feet of snow.

There’s good reason to be excited about these new live casting tools and to experiment with them. But let’s not throw clients into them just because we can or because they’ve asked. I’ve seen what can happen when you do that, and it benefits no one.