Livestreaming scofflaws are tech's new innovators

mayweather pacquiao fight

Ari Wallach is the CEO of the innovation strategy firm Synthesis Corp., which works with senior leaders on developing their next generation business models.

This past Saturday, millions of people paid up to $100 to watch what had been billed as the "fight of the century" between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao on pay-per-view.

Yet multitudes were able to catch the action for free through unauthorized live streams, some of which originated from inside the arena in Las Vegas, while others -- more ominous for Big Media -- came from people simply pointing their phone at a TV that was airing the fight.

The makers of Meerkat, Periscope and other apps used to live stream are now under fire from the media companies that purchased the rights to broadcast the fight.

But this wasn't an organized coup or a principled stand against Big Media networks. Some of the people who accessed the streams might not even have been boxing fans -- just those who wouldn't pay for the fight, but were curious what all the hype was about.

Related: Mayweather-Pacquiao fight made Meerkat the new Napster

The story here is not the app or the underlying technology. The real innovation has to do with how we consume and share media in the digital age -- and how that is changing. The only reason we are having this discussion is because the technology is so new that the act of streaming real-time events isn't fully understood.

In fact, the people streaming live events aren't bad actors, as much as they represent a new breed of field producers and correspondents. They bring access and value to the audience that would otherwise not be possible. This is not an act of piracy, it is evidence of a new relationship between producer, distributor and viewer -- a virtuous circle where everyone has a role to play and value to add.

For this new relationship to flourish, litigation must be replaced with imagination.

The PGA Tour recently revoked golf reporter Stephanie Wei's credential after she used Periscope to show golfers teeing off in practice last Monday. This is justified in the eyes of PGA Tour legal counsel.

But imagine if instead they saw this as an opportunity to reach her 33,000 Twitter followers on a Monday afternoon ... and then worked with her to embed real-time ads in her feed?

Make no mistake -- this whole process will get uglier before its figured out. Innovation is always messy -- especially at the beginning. When the first VCR was introduced, TV and movie producers panicked. Over time, this new technology gave rise (and fall) to Blockbuster, TiVo and eventually Netflix.

Theaters still exist and live television -- for news, sports, and special events -- still attracts a massive audience. A similar thing happens in every industry when new technology challenges the status quo.

That's the nature of innovation. The big fight on Saturday wasn't between two boxers, it was for the future of media. And it's just beginning.

You can follow Ari Wallach on Twitter @ariw. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


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