Independent Venezuelan news site triumphs with live video on Periscope while many move to Facebook Live

This story is part of a series on Innovative Journalism in Latin America and the Caribbean.(*)

When Periscope launched in March 2015, it was not long before print and digital media saw an opportunity to cover events live and in real-time, a space previously dominated by television news companies.

Citizens and journalists alike could use the online video application to simultaneously broadcast anti-government protests, confrontations with police or other breaking news events. The fact that Twitter purchased Periscope shortly before the application launched meant that a distribution network was already in place.

But rapid technological innovation meant that Periscope would soon be displaced by Facebook Live, which offered additional features and was driven by an aggressive marketing campaign.

As many sites, including those in Latin America, moved their real-time broadcasts to Facebook Live, one Venezuelan media outlet decided not to follow the trend: Efecto Cocuyo.

The site for political, economic and human rights news, whose headquarters is a small office in Caracas, arose in 2015 due to the need for independent media to combat an information blackout in the country.

Due to the characteristics of the Efecto Cocuyo audience and the situation in the South American nation, Periscope was the ideal tool for the site to bring images to the public that traditional audiovisual media were not broadcasting.

“People who started to connect to Twitter when it arrived in Venezuela were people who had a lot of opinions in all areas, and the network was taking on the profile of an information network, while Facebook has a profile more like a family network, of friends,” Luz Mely Reyes, journalist and co-founder of Efecto Cocuyo, said to the Knight Center.

Efecto Cocuyo was born on Twitter in January 2015 before it even had its own website, so it consolidated the bulk of its audience in that network. While, as of Apr. 12, it had 15,000 followers on Facebook, its Twitter profile boasted 179,000.

Taking advantage of its base of followers and the momentum of Periscope around the world, in the middle of 2015, Efecto Cocuyo began with simple broadcasts of protests, confrontations and political events, with a minimal investment in smartphones and 4G data plans.

“Since starting with Periscope, we’ve had 420 broadcasts. As a media outlet, we are among those with the most followers, we have more than 20,000 on Periscope and are pioneers in that field,” Reynaldo Mozo, journalist and community manager at Efecto Cocuyo, told the Knight Center.

Currently, its transmissions on Periscope reach an average of 3,000 connected users, although its most successful streaming – the participation of singer Miguel Ignacio Mendoza of duo Chino y Nacho in a protest against President Maduro on Apr. 10, 2017 – registered 61,100 views in two days.

The site launched the program “Con la Luz” (With the Light) in February 2017. In the program, Luz Mely Reyes moderates in length interviews and debates about an hour on political and social themes in Venezuela. The program broadcasts exclusively via Periscope every Friday at 6 p.m.

“We do not have the possibility of having a space on television, so offering a view that is different from the hegemony of traditional media can also have an impact, because people like to see different points of view,” said Reyes, whose most successful episode of “Con la Luz” was a Mar. 30 interview with former congresswoman María Corina Machado, which exceeded 18,000 viewers.

"Doing this has been a product of experimentation. We started doing overviews of the situations of the country and when we saw that this was well-received we said 'let's try a little bit more'," Reyes added. "But it's not about 'Periscoping' everything. What we believe to be 'Periscopeable' are events that are not being broadcast by traditional media."

For the Efecto Cocuyo team, the key to secure impact in its transmissions is to present the facts in a simple way, but at the same time, cover them with the rigor that journalism demands.

"Periscope has taught us that it is useless to go to a protest and only broadcast and show what is happening with images. We have to answer the five basic questions of journalism. Periscope requires us to explain how everything is working to the people behind that phone,” Mozo said.

With all its advantages, Periscope also presents large obstacles, particularly in countries like Venezuela. The internet connection with data networks, even when using WiFi, is unstable in that country. Additionally, reporters are constantly stripped of equipment they use to broadcast marches or protests, to the point where smartphones have become a consumable product that they have to purchase frequently.

“They would steal a phone like this from you anywhere. Right now we use three fourth generation Motorola (phones) that we found at a good price. In Venezuela, we cannot have iPhones or Samsungs because they are extremely expensive,” Reyes said.

Given the political and social situation in Venezuela, Efecto Cocuyo has also faced violence and resistance from authorities when conducting broadcasts. Several of its reporters have been beaten during protests and, in one of the site’s most popular videos, Luz Mely Reyes' recent transmission was interrupted by a police officer while broadcasting long lines at a gas station.

“By the Constitution, any person has the right to record and to take photos of any event that happens in public,” Reyes said. “Cops are afraid because in one year 176 uniformed officers have been killed. To protect themselves they do not like to be recorded, but they really cannot prevent us from recording an event that is happening in public.”

Periscope has not only emulated the journalistic function of television. In Argentina, a radio station used the platform to enrich its broadcasts. and strengthen the relationship that it managed to build with its audience over the years.

In its eight decades, Cadena 3, a radio station based in Córdoba, managed to create fidelity and interaction with its audience, even before the emergence of social networks. With the arrival of Periscope, the station managed to take that interaction to another level.

“Our proposal was not to make television programs of the radio or to film the radio. We understand that there are new languages through which we can better tell stories, enhance the information or the stories that are told on the radio,” Máximo Tell, member of the social networks team at Cadena 3, told the Knight Center. "We will continue to make radio because it is our way of thinking about news and stories, but now we have elements that allow us to extend those moments."

In June 2015, the company began a one-year experiment to broadcast highlights from its programming via Periscope and to engage users in the radio broadcast. The majority of listeners of Cadena 3 are between 40 and 65 years of age, while some broadcasters are over 70 years old. However, listeners and hosts with an established tradition in radio broke the generational barrier and adapted to the new platform.

“Periscope served to show us that we can extend the stories with the logic that radio is already using to talk to listeners,” Tell added. “We wanted to tell stories by streaming live audio and video with the social network’s tools, but in a ‘mobile’ way. That was considered in our discourse, in our narrative.”

Cadena 3 managed to accumulate 22,600 followers on Periscope and its broadcasts attracted an average of 2,000 viewers. However, at the end of 2016, the broadcaster changed its live streamings to Facebook Live, mainly because it could extend the reach of its audience to a bigger level with that network.

“The numbers with Periscope were good, but afterwards we succumbed to switching to Facebook Live because of a question of massive reach. People are on Facebook in large numbers. Beyond the fact that journalists like Twitter better, people are on Facebook, period, and we have to produce where people are,” Tell said.

The team found the fact that the broadcasts were housed in their Facebook timeline facilitated followers being able to find and consume them. Additionally, Mark Zuckerberg’s platform offered more efficient metrics.

An important factor in a media outlet's decision to use one platform or another is having access to information that allows it to know the level of interaction with its followers and the impact of their broadcasts. The media outlets also found that Facebook Live offers more specific figures on the number of followers won and lost per stream as well as more information about the audience.

Mexican newspaper El Financiero sees the difference in metrics provided by Periscope and Facebook Live on a daily basis. In January of this year, the newspaper began an official collaboration with Twitter to cover the first days of the government of Donald Trump.

For this collaboration, the media outlet uses the hashtag #100DíasDeTrump, and creates a weekly “Moment” (the Twitter feature that allows users to make a compilation of Tweets about the same topic in the form of a story), and broadcasts a program of analysis via Periscope that is hosted by Victor Hugo Michel, editorial director of El Financiero Bloomberg TV. The objective is to see how Mexican users react on social networks to the first administrative actions of the new President of the United States.

"Periscope or Moments do not provide much reflection of how much impact your transmission had. Sometimes you have to do a bit of predicting as to why something worked at a certain time, and why it didn’t at others,” said Irasema Pineda, director of social networks at El Financiero, to the Knight Center. "Twitter, Periscope and Moments give you raw numbers of how you did that week, while on Facebook it’s clearer how many people potentially received your publication by shares, by tags."

El Financiero’s Periscope broadcasts, which take place every Friday, reach an average of 2,500 viewers. So far, the media outlet has 31,000 followers on the platform. However, it is difficult for the team to measure the impact of its alliance.

"On Facebook we grow organically very well, but on Twitter it is more difficult. Everything that helps us grow on Twitter is welcome, that's why we got this agreement,” Pineda said. "I would not dare say that [the alliance with Periscope] has not added anything, and I don't think we can know, because of the type of analytics on Twitter.”

Periscope is not willing to cede ground to its competitors. So in an effort to retain media outlets on its platform, in April the app released two new ways to measure audiences: a new tab to see how many people are interacting with its broadcasts and a dashboard with more detailed analytics, including data such as playback times per user, number of "hearts" (icons users can click to “like” a broadcast) and number of viewers.

“Periscope is a natural platform for live journalistic content due to it’s real-time, open and public characteristics. News spreads faster and efficiently in the platform, making it a key tool for media organizations in Latin America,” Leonardo Stamillo, head of content partnerships for news in Latin America for Twitter, told the Knight Center.

Additionally, since the end of last year, Periscope has offered its media partners the possibility of connecting external devices to their transmissions, such as switchers or professional cameras, as Facebook already allows.

“It is natural that media partners will test different tools. However, given Twitter’s natural characteristics and live environment, it is the first and best place for live news coverage,” Stamillo said.

(*) This story is part of a special project by the Knight Center that is made possible thanks to generous support from Open Society Foundations. The "Innovative Journalism" series covers digital news media trends and best practices in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Other stories in the series include:

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.