Meerkat’s Pivot is a Testament to the Limits of Mobile Live Broadcasting

MeerkatOnly a year has gone by since Meerkat was the darling of the SXSW festival as the start-up brought live streaming to the tech world’s attention. However, as Re/Code recently reported, the company is already looking at pivoting towards becoming a live video social network.

Meerkat CEO Ben Rubin responded the story by taking a refreshingly frank and honest approach, which is something he should be applauded for. He published the memo he sent to the company’s investors and conceded that over the last year or so, Meerkat has entered ‘rougher waters’ and that mobile broadcast video hasn’t quite exploded as his team had hoped. He also noted that the distribution advantages of Twitter/Periscope and Facebook Live drew more early users to them away from Meerkat and that his company wasn’t able to grow as quickly alongside as they had planned.

When Meerkat first launched, it was heralded by some as a revolution, while in reality mobile live video has simply become an interesting bolt-on feature for some of the major social platforms. However, as Rubin explained, the growth of mobile live video isn’t only limited by the distribution challenges, but also by the burden it places on creators. “One thing we have learned is there is a very high emotional cost to being entertaining in a live format, and bringing on enough of a live audience to make it worthwhile is challenging too,” he said.

While live streaming can work for things like gaming, where the high production values of the video games carry everything else, it’s far harder for your average vlogger to create something that has value via live broadcasting. Creating good video content is difficult and usually requires both planning and a team of people co-ordinating.

That said, the growth numbers at Twitter’s Periscope have been more encouraging, although we haven’t had fresh figures on the number of daily active users (DAUs) since last August. But at that point Twitter said they had 10 million people registered and almost 2 million DAUs using the service. While it might be tempting to make comparisons with the TV industry and to say things like ‘imagine if the TV industry had 2 million broadcasters’, the audience sizes mean that it’s ridiculous to do so. For the most part these broadcasts are simply part of the information flowing around on pre-existing social channels, and the most successful will be the very same celebrities, media companies and news reporters.

Meerkat found that the sweetspot for the service happened when people who already knew each other (either in person or online) ‘came together live and interacted in realtime’, which sounds a little like Skype, Google Hangouts or Apple’s Facetime. However, none of those have an ‘open’ feeling about them, so perhaps there’s a niche there that Meerkat can fill.

Meerkat been working on a new social product since last October and it is expected to launch a social network that is based around video in real-time. The move comes at an interesting time. VR and 360 video is just starting to gain traction, so there’s every chance Meerkat might end up creating the kind of social VR product envisaged by Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg.

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