This year’s SXSW Interactive was dominated by one app – Meerkat. Delegates went crazy for the live streaming video service which had recently secured a significant war chest of US$12m of funding. Its status as the next big thing in technology seemed assured.
Except that much of Meerkat’s initial appeal was its integration with Twitter, and on 26 March that company chose to debut its own live streaming app Periscope. The tech blogs, who had enthused about Meerkat a few days earlier, now had a battle to chronicle – cue an avalanche of coverage of both services.
A week or so on and the hype around the two launches is starting to recede. Nevertheless in addition to both companies attracting a generous number of users, the last week has also seen one huge event captured by the services (the fire and explosion in East Village New York). Opportunities for publishers are starting to emerge.
A quick intro to the platforms
Both Meerkat and Periscope are app based video streaming services that enable iPhone owners (there is no Android version for either) to create and share live video broadcasts. Both connect to Twitter so that followers can tune in and see/hear what broadcasters are doing in real time. Viewers can also comment and, in some instances, the broadcasters have let them direct what happens on the screen.
After the early buzz around Meerkat most of the technology bloggers now seem to be favouring Periscope citing its easier to use interface, superior integration with Twitter and the ability to view video footage 24 hours after it was taken. Meerkat is more akin to Snapchat in that if a person misses the live broadcast then it is gone.
Why live video streaming matters now
Ultimately though neither service is offering anything especially new. Live streaming was the talk of the tech world as far back as 2007 when incumbents like Ustream and Livestream launched.
What gives Meerkat and Periscope a chance is that technology has moved on considerably from 2007. Fast and robust 4G networks are available in many cities and these enable reasonable quality videos streaming. The plummeting cost of data, smart integration of Twitter and clever use of analytics also make their release very timely.
Not surprisingly media companies have been quick to realise the potential of being able to stream live events easily and push out that content via Twitter. For example the recent explosion in New York was captured on Periscope by The Huffington Post and attracted nearly 1000 viewers. Mashable has also used the new platforms screening live footage from the New York Motor Show.
In the UK BuzzFeed sent one of its reporters Patrick Smith out on to the streets of London with a brief to respond to whatever commenters requested. Among other things he was encouraged to display the sights, pester shop staff and sing Bon Jovi songs.
Smith said he did it because “I thought it might be a fun way to test out a new tool,” though admits that after an initial burst of interest after 20 minutes there were only three of four people watching.
He adds that “I feel as if you’ve got maybe 30 seconds to get people interested, or they’ll go somewhere else.”
Will they be successful?
Not surprisingly after all the publicity both Meerkat and Periscope shot to the top of the app download charts. As time has gone by though their popularity has waned considerably. Wired’s Michael Rundle points out that neither app has hit the UK top 50 of downloaded apps. They clearly are a long way from the mainstream. Higher quality content is certain to drive downloads, but at the time of writing the most watched live transmission on Meerkat came from a Stockholm railway station.
It is however essential for both apps that they build active communities quickly or else they may find they go the way of other high profile app launches like Secret and Yo. The elephant in the room is also YouTube/Google who could in theory launch its own streaming app.
Yet there clearly is potential for media companies to use the services to capture breaking news, perform live unboxing of products and deliver interactive tutorials such as preparing food.
As Buzzfeed’s Patrick Smith concludes: “I don’t know if it will be a big deal but the potential’s there. When Vine launched no one knew what to do with it, but it’s become an everyday tool for BuzzFeed and other publishers. The obvious usage will be for breaking news, where there’s a striking image and something important is happening.”
Sky journalist Joe Tidy, who gave Periscope viewers the behind the scenes view from the UK general election Leaders’ Debate spin room, also thinks the technology has potential.
“I think I and other reporters will use it a lot. It’s a really easy way to go live very quickly without needing anyone else or any other kit. I think Periscope/ Meerkat will be used on a case-by-case basis for more fun things to enhance our social media storytelling.”
It will be fascinating to see how both platforms evolve.