There’s a Meerkat in My Periscope

Meerkat and Periscope
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What live streaming video means for marketers

Meerkat and Periscope exploded onto the tech scene in recent weeks, offering not only fun monikers, but the ability to live-stream (and view) video via laptop, mobile or tablet, fascinating technophiles and marketers alike. Hundreds of thousands of people already are streaming live on various devices.

Here’s how the concept works: users can immediately broadcast video of whatever they happen to be doing, and the apps generate a tweet to let followers know they’re live. Both Meerkat and Periscope allow viewers to comment in real-time, and to interact with others following the stream.

The rise (smirk) of Meerkat and Periscope

Meerkat hit the market first, rising to South by Southwest stardom, even as Twitter (which bought competitor Periscope in January for around $100 million) revoked the ability for Meerkat users to automatically connect with their Twitter followers on the app. Early “meerkatters” in Austin jumped at the chance to create richer experiences at the conference, broadcasting everything from live performances to real-time session feeds and, of course, parties.

The tech press leapt to attention, covering both apps heavily, including an interesting point/counterpoint in The Next Web. The New York Times Bits blog, TechCrunch, Quartz, HuffPo and others charted Meerkat’s arrival, its subsequent snubbing by Twitter and its near-overshadowing by Periscope.

In the few short weeks since, both platforms have risen to app-store fame. Early adopters include entertainers the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Madonna, and everyday megabrands like Starbucks and Spotify.

Wait, hasn’t this concept been around a while?

We get it. Live streaming video in this way is not really new (think YouNow, Justin.tv, Livestream or Qik). The catch is, none have caught on to this extent, until now. So why, as the New York Times put it, has there been “something of a renaissance of live-streaming apps”?

Kayvon Beykpour, chief executive and co-founder of Periscope, told the Times: “The world is way more ready for this than it was a year ago. We have the benefit of entering this market when people are more sold on the idea of live broadcasting.”

Annie Lowrey with New York Magazine reports more cynically, “Smartphones have gotten faster and have become ubiquitous, making it possible for users to film and to view live video. On top of that, the popularity of apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Vine, Twitter, and so on has made it seem more normal for people to share every last detail of their lives.”

Ouch. But so true.

What’s the brand play here?

Beyond SXSW, use cases include everything from live reports at disaster sites to onsite interviews at events or insider access to celebrity moments like Jimmy Fallon’s live-streamed monologue rehearsal. Even Silicon Valley venture capitalists joined the party, according to the Times, broadcasting podcast tapings or presentations. Some foresee apps like Periscope and Meerkat commanding a starring role in the 2016 United States presidential election.

For companies, these apps offer cheap, easy live streaming of any number of activities: conferences, launches, sporting events or buzz-worthy stunts.

“Real-time social interaction is more important than ever, and video content allows brands to engage with their audience in a human and transparent way that tweets and Facebook posts simply can’t contend with,” Anna Francis, content manager with My Social Agency told Computerworld.

Starbucks dove in early, Computerworld reports, using Meerkat to let followers “in” to the company’s Seattle roastery and tasting room to watch the roasting process. Spotify streamed introductions of artists and sessions with live DJs at SXSW, finding a way to amplify engagement among people who weren’t at the event. Oregon State University uses the technology to enhance press conference broadcasts, adding on-field coverage and peeks at live batting practice.

So, what’s the consensus?

Those enthusiastic about the apps see an exciting way to interact and engage with a social community in real time. Dan Pfieffer, former senior advisor to President Obama, suggests Meerkat and Periscope could do to TV what blogs did to print newspapers, “by removing many of the financial and structural advantages of legacy media institutions.”

Says Pfieffer,“Think about it this way: Up until about two weeks ago, broadcasting an event live required a large and quite expensive satellite truck, a ton of expensive cables and expensive satellite time. Now you can do it with your phone — the same machine you use to text, check Instagram, hail an Uber, and play Candy Crush.”

However, others are less enthusiastic. Former Forrester Analyst Augie Ray says apps like Meerkat and Periscope won’t change the world. Ray points to the virtual disappearance of past SXSW standouts Groupme, Sonar and Hashable: “There is a lesson here for evaluating SXSW buzz: The needs of the world’s most digitally connected people while attending the world’s most digitally connected event are simply not a good proxy for the needs of people who have busy lives, job stresses, family demands and are mostly overwhelmed with their existing digital communication channels and apps.”

Other observers point to usage issues, like the Madonna “Ghosttown” video fail. Given that, will companies even be comfortable with the perils of live video? We’ve found that encouraging big brands to embrace even tested platforms like Vine can be a challenge. And brands, beware the power of the user: imagine the potential horrors of live-streamed customer service mishaps or product flops. We’ll deal with that in another post.

As for audience adoption, analyst Ray called out in Social Media Today consumers’ preference for “timeshifting” (watching pre-recorded video when it’s more convenient, à la DVR), and a culture already overstimulated and pressed for time.

“If most brands cannot find a way to be interesting with the luxury of time, what would they stream that might demand consumers drop everything right now to watch it live?” he asks.

What’s more, New York Magazine notes that live video precludes the ability to “go viral,” often the holy grail for social efforts. Other marketers say the services demand good reporting, curating and quality control to be truly useful.

Meanwhile, venture capitalists are voting with their checkbooks. Greylock Partners led a $12 million Series B round for Meerkat in March.

Looking into our crystal ball…

As for the JDM team, we tested Meerkat last month, tuning into an influencer’s streams during a conference a few team members weren’t able to attend. From the user perspective, we found it a handy way to be present and get added value out of the event, beyond the Twitter stream. On the flip side, it’s a smart way for influencers to connect with followers in real time and give them something more relatable.

For now, we’re cautious but interested. We understand how some see this as a way to exponentially increase the creation of boring content (see #fridgeview or #showusyourfridge). However, we also see the value in giving it a test drive. Live-streaming video makes a lot of sense in certain areas like concerts and conferences (like SXSW) and other events; for consumer “journalism,” or even just as part of an effort to humanize a brand, like in the Starbucks or VC examples above.

How well Meerkat and Periscope are able to catch on remains to be seen. We’ll be watching.

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