Periscope shines during House blackout

Periscope shines during House blackout
© Twitter

Periscope is having its moment in politics. 

The live-streaming tool owned by Twitter allowed Democrats to broadcast their sit-in on the House floor this week, a protest against the GOP’s failure to bring gun control legislation up for a vote after the mass shooting in Orlando earlier this month.

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After Republicans put the House into recess and cut off the video feed that C-SPAN uses to provide coverage, Democrats took to Periscope — and later to Facebook Live — to show their daylong protest to the public. 

It has made a convert out of Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersReps introduce hurricane preparedness bill House Dems attempt to force vote on gun background checks bill Periscope shines during House blackout MORE (D-Calif.), who used the app for the first time this week after his staff told him to download it. His stream was viewed by thousands of people and eventually picked up by C-SPAN.

“It is very clear to me from the comments I got back during this experience that you could use this technology to put people inside the House chamber to make them feel like they are there with you,” he told The Hill. “It really connected people in a real visceral way that I don’t think has ever happened before, but we could certainly do it again.”

Peters’s suggestion would require the chamber to relax its rules on the use of electronics on the floor. But he said he is considering broadcasting other speeches, joking that he expects the same level of excitement about his talk before the Chamber of Commerce. 

He’ll just be wary of the cellular data the app uses in the future.  

“I’m sorry that my wife will read that I did not turn on the Wi-Fi,” he said. “And the answer to your next question is 4.6 GB.”

The broadcast of the sit-in created an onslaught of media coverage and buzz about Periscope just as social media giants compete to draw users to their nascent live video platforms.

The tool received plugs from high-profile lawmakers including Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi rails against 'scam' GOP tax-reform plans Playing politics with America’s money is a dangerous game Pelosi: This is the week Trump 'went rogue' MORE (Calif.). She said the tool completely thwarted Republicans’ attempt to stifle the protest, which the GOP branded as a publicity stunt.  

“It is almost irrelevant now because technology enables Periscope to take us out,” she said. “The control of the House, yeah, that belongs to the Speaker. But the Speaker needs to recognize that the world has changed and there are other ways to get the message out in real time to a broader audience of people that would probably never be watching C-SPAN.”

When Twitter was still young, the company had a team dedicated to helping lawmakers adopt and use the platform. At this point, nearly every member of the House and Senate is a verified Twitter users with a blue checkmark next to their name. 

Judging by Peters’s unfamiliarity with the tool before this week, it is unclear if there has been the same level of outreach with Periscope.

When Periscope launched last March, it quickly outpaced the other major live-streaming app, Meerkat. In its last earnings report, Twitter said people had created more than 200 million broadcasts through Periscope and that users watch 110 years of live video every day.

The tool has been used during protests on the presidential campaign trail and to broadcast live images during recent tragedies. 

But YouTube and others still dominate live streams of speeches and other events because of their better video quality. And Facebook Live has recently inked millions of dollars' worth of deals with media companies to provide live content on its rival platform. 

The rivalry between live streaming companies was on full display during the sit in. 

C-SPAN broadcast a live Periscope feed from Peters for much of the day, but also showed coverage from the Facebook Live feed of Rep. Beto O'RourkeRobert (Beto) Francis O'RourkePeriscope shines during House blackout Lawmakers form Term Limits Caucus Rep. O’Rourke live-tweets bus ride with constituents MORE (D-Texas). 

Twitter announced that hashtags associated with the Democrats’ sit-in were retweeted more than 1.4 million times, and tweets that included the Periscope streams of lawmakers were shared more than 1 million times. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also chimed in, boasting that his company’s tool was “bringing more openness to the political process” and that live Facebook videos from at least 19 members had been viewed 3 million times.