Fast Company: Periscope got popular really fast. What inspired you to create it in the first place?
Kayvon Beykpour: I was in Istanbul when the protests in Taksim Square erupted. It was this really dramatic and pivotal moment, and I remember asking myself whether it was safe to go out or not. So the initial seed of Periscope was, “Why is it that I can’t see what’s happening right now somewhere in the world?” That’s when [my cofounder] Joe Bernstein and I started thinking about this idea of a teleportation machine. Obviously we can’t disassemble your matter and move it somewhere, but we could get close to it.
Periscope has also been playing a role in covering social unrest in the U.S., like during the protests in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. What do you think it provides that didn’t exist before?
Periscope has become a medium that can build truth and empathy. If I can see what’s happening in Baltimore right now through someone’s eyes in a way that’s raw and unfiltered and unfettered, that’s truth. You can’t deny it. One of the people that I have been watching really closely is [activist] DeRay Mckesson. He Vined the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” protest at the airport near Ferguson, and it was just so powerful, lying on the ground with him. He obviously had thought, “What tools can I use to share what’s happening?” We were introduced through a friend and he joined our beta. In June, we launched a map feature that will let users zoom into [an area like] Baltimore and see everything that’s live right now.
I think about how these events are covered on cable news, where viewers are shown a continuous loop of one city block or incident, without sufficient context, if any. But if someone can zoom out and find other Periscope streams, they might see a different, more rounded perspective from what’s being offered on TV.
Now you’re talking. There’s so much we can do from a product standpoint to let you explore a specific story from different angles, assuming the content is there. Paul Lewis [from The Guardian] was talking to people on the street [in Baltimore] about how it felt to have their community affected by these protests and the police presence, and the responses were impassioned in a way that you don’t get when you watch a 20-second interview on cable news. He talked to one woman for 12 minutes about how her community was changing right before her eyes. That was transfixing.
How else is Periscope affecting the way news is reported?
The reason journalism through Periscope is so compelling is because it’s the first time the news is not a passive experience. [With] prerecorded content—and even live television—you sit on your couch and just consume what’s been packaged for you. With Periscope, you can contribute. Viewers can ask the broadcaster questions. The other difference is that it has the potential to be more immediate. It’s difficult to put three cameramen, an audio guy, and a reporter on a truck or on a plane and send them somewhere. It’s easier for someone who’s already there to pull out their phone. I think you’ll see more coverage of notable events, more quickly. When the fire happened [in New York’s East Village] the day of our launch, there were 60 people broadcasting it simultaneously—half an hour before the first camera crews got there.
Have you been approached by news organizations interested in formal partnerships?
The nice thing about the type of product we’re building is that even without formal partnerships, people are interested in brainstorming with us. We can work nicely with news organizations—they’ve got their trucks and broadcasting systems, but many are also using Periscope. So we can coexist.
There are several live-streaming apps competing with you, such as Meerkat, YouNow, and Upclose. Why are we seeing so many new entrants to this market, and what stands out about Periscope?
Live-streaming apps have been around for years, but there wasn’t mass consumer appeal. You couldn’t whip out your iPhone if you happened to be on the scene of a fire. Now the hardware is there, the network connections are there. Periscope is intimate in a way that no other application is. We created the ability to send “hearts” so that the broadcaster knows that the audience likes what they are seeing. We hadn’t seen that before in other products.
Periscope made headlines when people streamed the Mayweather-Pacquiao boxing match, allowing viewers to bypass the $100 pay-per-view fee. How much of a problem is that kind of piracy?
Sure, you have this one case that’s been highly discussed. But the partners, platform, and users as a whole have had way more positive [experiences] come out of the ways that folks like HBO, NBA teams, and other sporting institutions have been using Periscope. Of course, there are questions that need to be asked and work that needs to be done around handling cases [such as the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight] when they come up. The world is a big place, the Internet is a big place, and people are going to try things that they shouldn’t. You’re not allowed to stream copyrighted work; you’re not allowed to stream pornography. We have policies and procedures in place to shut it down, and we’ll work with those partners to be proactive in the future around how we can think about this stuff.
How can Periscope augment what entertainment companies are doing with their content? Could Periscope become the Hulu for what’s on right now?
We’ve already seen it impact the entertainment industry by taking us behind the scenes, whether it’s seeing Katie Couric on the red carpet interviewing actors and actresses or HBO taking us into Manny Pacquiao’s locker room before the fight. That wasn’t on television. These media partners might have traditionally thought of their show as being from the moment the broadcast starts at 8 p.m. to the moment the game is over, when the fight is over, when the episode ends. The window now starts before the TV broadcast starts and ends after the TV broadcast ends. There’s a lot of stuff you can do to bookend that experience.
How has the Twitter acquisition affected life at Periscope?
[With] everything that happens in Periscope, we own product development, we own marketing, we own brand. We wanted to run an independent group. We wanted our own office, our own culture. When you read a tweet from Periscope, that’s our tweet. No one’s telling us what the words should be. If we want to swear, we can swear. That seems silly, but it matters to us.
Is Twitter—which has made many investments that spectators are waiting to see bear fruit—viewing this as a monetization opportunity or as part of a strategy to rev up user growth?
Neither, right now. No one, except for the media, is thinking about monetization. User growth is obviously a proxy for whether we’re doing something interesting, but I wouldn’t even say that Twitter, or we, are thinking about user growth so much as we are thinking, Are we building something that’s changing the way people can communicate? With every Baltimore broadcast, we feel like we’re creating something that people like using to share what’s happening around them. It’s early days for our motivation to be anything else.