This article was published 9 years ago

How cable screwed up the fight and what’s next for Periscope

boxing ring MGM Grand
A boxing ring at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nv. – Image credit: Flickr / Alan Kotok

Saturday night’s fight had all the markings for the “fight of the century”. Two boxers – who should have fought years ago – finally settled their differences and agreed to fight they both walk away from the ring. A record-setting price was announced and cable companies thought the demand wouldn’t be high for the fight. The opposite occurred, so much that cable systems across the country crashed because of the high volume of orders.

Those that had the fight illegally streamed the fight on Periscope and other streaming services to those that couldn’t watch the fight or didn’t want to pay $90 to $100 to watch. In the end, two things came out: live streaming services are in and death to pay-per-view (the second may be exaggerated). So how did we get here and what’s next?

Cable’s worst nightmare: too many orders

One major problem with serving content – mainly video – over the Internet is that if a lot of people watch the stream it can bog down the system, if not crash it. We’ve seen this happen with HBO Go on several occurrences with Game of Thrones and True Detective, that one time Apple streamed their keynote and Sling TV during the Kentucky-Wisconsin final four match.

Cable providers – in a position to keep people from ditching cable and going online only – keep convincing us that cable TV is still the best option to watch video programming through them instead of online streaming providers because the cable providers are sending the signal users want to watch instead of users requesting the signal of a particular video stream.

Think of it in a way of calling a phone number: if too many people dial the same number and there aren’t any opening to accept the connection, you get a busy signal. That’s how cable TV providers like to describe Internet streaming providers.

After last weekend, cable companies can no longer tell us their immune to technical failures because of heavy demand. What should be asked in the following days: Can cable TV providers open additional resources to balance the demand like streaming providers currently do under heavy usage? And most importantly: did cable TV providers assume people weren’t going to watch the fight because of the high price? The latter question is becoming the obvious.

So how did cable TV providers fumble on Saturday night, so much that fight was delayed 45 minutes because of the pay-per-view ordering meltdown? Cable TV providers works just like the Internet, expect locally.

Cable TV works just a like the Internet, except everything is done internally – called an Intranet. Your DVR/Receiver is like a computer that’s connected to the cable TV network. When you want to watch CNN: it sends the video signal to you on that particular channel CNN is on. It’s been a one-way street for several years until digital cable came along and brought us OnDemand interactive programs. Now the system is two-way: you send a request (buy button on the remote) and the server sends you the movie you purchased.

That’s what happen last weekend, too many people were hitting the network with buy requests that cable providers couldn’t keep up with the demand and the system crashed.

Periscope to the rescue (and its’ legal future*)

As cable networks crashed across the country, people became to look for those that were showing the fight online – including those that didn’t want to pay to see the fight. Periscope – Twitter’s live streaming app – won the night because it was easy to do it: point your iPhone to the TV screen and broadcast.

It seemed everyone was doing this, especially from countries where the fight was shown for free.

Immediately people began questioning the legal future of Periscope and other live streaming services. This is what’s going to happen: unless Periscope ignored the take-down requests from HBO/Showtime PPV, they should be protected from lawsuits.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, corporations have protection from lawsuits filed by rights’ owners as long as they show “good faith” that they did effort to stop the illegal activity.

The “safe harbor” provision of the DMCA was ensured law during the YouTube/Viacom lawsuit when a judge ruled in favor of YouTube because they showed effort at stamping out illegally uploaded videos, even when an appellate court ruled in Viacom’s favor.

So as long as Periscope isn’t giving the middle finger to the take-down process and proclaiming free illegal streaming for everyone, they should be legally fine in the future.

*Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and this post should not be considered legal advice.  However, I follow legal cases and read their outcomes.