Can Meerkat be more Snapchat than Yo?


Hype used to be what every new app developer wanted, until it became a euphemism for flash in the pan. Meerkat and Periscope are so hot right now, as evidenced by the breathless fan boy bloggers and the equally breathless declarations of their death (in particular Meerkat’s).

This current iteration of native mobile live video streaming has captured the attention of the media and also the general public. Is this a game-changing and sustainable phenom, or a flash in the pan?

There is no doubt both Meerkat and Periscope (as well as the other lower profile live streaming apps like Livelens) have built sustainable platforms, but they will need to iterate – fast – to remain relevant and drive truly engaged user growth. But how?

Build on their solid foundations

Meerkat has clearly struck a nerve. Its seamless mobile experience is at the heart of a new generation of mobile-first (infact mobile-only) applications that work straight out of the virtual box. Sign up and start broadcasting.

But it taps into something much deeper. There is a large and growing community of people who simply want to be seen. They are not the first organization to recognize this – JustinTV, YouTube, Twitch all tapped into our modern desire to be publishers. While there remains a larger cohort who are straight consumers of content, the number of producers is growing exponentially.

And live video is powerful. While most social content sharing sites started life with plain text, the evolution to photos and video is testament to the power of the moving picture. Facebook added video chat, Twitter acquired and integrated Vine, Snapchat bought AddLive. Live video remains the most powerful, reality-like mode for deep human engagement.

Add these together and you get the hottest app on the planet.

Potential landmines

As new apps grow (fast), the technology infrastructure can often lag. And when a core proposition is ‘on demand’ or ‘always on’ a Meerkat fail whale could be disastrous. Periscope’s owners, Twitter, should have enough experience in this area to avoid the problem.

While Meerkat is now available for iOS and Android, Periscope is for now iOS only and exploring Android, which has a wide range of handsets. Ensuring quality experience with video is difficult at the best of times, but especially so when formatted for multiple devices and variable network qualities. If not properly addressed, users may have a terrible experience. Early adopters can forgive, mainstream audiences don’t.

Already we’re seeing some negativity and warnings around data usage associated with the apps, so bill shock could also be an issue.

There’s also a cultural issue – you don’t want livecasters coming across as Glassholes.

Most of these issues though are either minor or manageable with some clever technology or a more welcoming culture. The biggest issue is staying relevant.

Becoming part of the everyday

Heat fades (see JustinTV, Yo, Ello). But I believe life-streaming or self-broadcasting can be a useful, everyday utility, and become a stayer.

To do this they will have to get the basics right, plus a few more clever things.

  • Stickier for existing users: ensure the high value broadcasters (celebrities and industry leaders) get more value, perhaps a monetization ability. At the same time ensure more early adopters continue to stress test the system, help find the rough edges, and then quickly fix them.
  • The killer caster: find the winners who will take this mainstream. Remember the early days of YouTube where a new breed of Internet celebrity was born. Find them and bring them onto the platform.
  • Displace some proven revenue streams: advertising can be fraught on live, long tail content. Content is uncontrolled and unpredictable so advertisers will take time to be convinced their brand should be associated. So other revenue streams will become vital. These could be around replacing existing streaming solutions as cheaper, same, or higher quality experience.
  • To Facebook and beyond: distribution via viral loops that go outside of just Twitter.
  • It’s a two way street: One way lifecasting good, two way better. Lifecasting is not a Skype-killer, but it could be. It could also impact talk radio and other interactive and engaging formats.
  •  Cord-cutting casters: As an original content platform further drive the unbundling from cable.
  • Make mobile magic: Mobile is a game-changer. Not only does it put the power in everyone’s hands, it has the ability to use in-built GPS to geolocate every stream. This opens up a raft of disruptive use-cases: see the game like you’ve never seen before, be part of the protest, be part of an event’s live-cast as well as your own life-cast.
  • Citizen journalism done right: Meerkat and Periscope have the ability to do for citizen journalism what the Iraq war did for CNN and cable TV. Be right there in the action, showing it live. This is something Twitter has always done well, but now it can do it with live vision, from multiple angles, all (potentially) in a single feed.

Video, and especially lifecasting, is clearly front and center right now. With a bit of luck, hard work, and making the right bets, Meerkat and Periscope could see it stay there.