By Adam Fraser
What a few weeks it’s been for live streaming.
First came the “breakout app” of the SXSW conference this year – Meerkat. Then came the launch of Periscope which had been acquired by Twitter earlier this year. Throughout – Twitter, the social zeitgeist and the digerati went into an excitement meltdown.
My stream became congested with [Live Now] precursors. Everyone went a little balmy in the way only tech and social media obsessives can when the “next big thing” emerges.
So hype or reality? How important is live streaming? And who will be the winner between Meerkat and Periscope?
Short answers in order. Real, very and not sure.
We have had live streaming before of course. Simple webcams were a fad in the late 1990s and UStream has been around since 2007 (but has a different business model and a less integrated social connection). And YouTube has of course been dominant and significant in online video more generally, a sector which Facebook are making some serious moves in.
But the game changer here is the confluence of technology development (iPhone6 video capability is astonishing), improvements in mobile broadband (allowing live steaming to transmit with less buffering), social media maturity (mainstream and at scale, to say the least) and the development of simple apps to produce live streaming (Meerkat or Periscope). We have a perfect storm of drivers to make this medium scaleable. The friction in the live streaming process has been almost entirely removed. Click one button (quite literally) and you can live stream to the world with immediate social notifications and a community to comment along the way.
We had cracked one to one “live streaming” (not that we called it that) with Skype and Facetime. Now one to many live streaming is easily available and ‘in-play’.
Of course the less serious side is people live streaming themselves making dinner, buying a coffee or sitting on a plane. We went through this on Twitter and the day to day clutter aspect isn’t key (and shouldn’t become a distraction).
As this develops the use cases and applications will be broad and impactful. Beyond cooking shows, live Q&As and many other traditional “YouTube” channel type applications, what does this means for media and broadcast rights more broadly? This is not so much disruption as potentially nuclear Armageddon.
Think of the value of live sports rights alone. Previously not easy (understatement) to broadcast live events quickly and easily to a large audience. Suddenly not so difficult. And very very difficult to prevent. I am not saying this will overnight create a broadcast quality alternative to TV but you can see where this could go.
Any events where live broadcasting has been monetisable are now in play and at risk of disruption in the long term. Think conferences, music concerts, live comedy. IP and copyright issues aplenty for the legal fraternity to ponder, but remember Napster and how peer to peer music sharing began? If copyright breaches happen at scale this is not an easy can of worms to contain.
This also has ramifications for the way news events are reported. Even the BBC has already been experimenting with Meerkat.
In terms of Meerkat v Periscope the jury is, by definition, still out given the newness of the offerings. The two apps offer different approaches and features. The key feature offered by Periscope not currently offered by Meerkat is the ability to upload replays of previous live streams. Once a Meerkat stream is over it is gone (a la a Snapchat message). Clearly Periscope will also benefit by being owned by Twitter, including accessing its social graph which was unceremoniously pulled from Meerkat. Meerkat is already adding new features in response.
Gary Vaynerchuk and many others are still – sensibly – sitting on the fence on this hotly discussed topic. It is premature to call the end of Meerkat but Twitter’s ownership of Periscope certainly confers advantages.
Too early to call who the “micro” winners will be, but I think as a genre, live streaming’s time has come.