Surely you’ve noticed it. Live video streaming is everywhere these days (and don’t call me ‘Shirley’). Previously considered the shadowy realm of webcam girls and other questionable ‘alone time’ activities, the world of streaming live video has recently hit the mainstream, very slight pun intended, with a whole new reputation for creativity and fascination. Acting as a temporary window into a whole new world as Aladdin had it, live video streaming is exciting, unpredictable an often funny as hell. Thanks to a few main proponents, live video is indeed trending in a big way. We’re going to look at three major players in the streaming game to see how they have advanced the form and ushered it into communal popular culture over the last few months.
But first, a contemporary example of the newfound power of live streaming. The recent prize-fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao was billed as the biggest event in modern boxing memory. While the fights itself proved to be a bit of a damp squib in terms of actual boxing, keen-eyed commentators regarded it as historic for entirely different reasons. The prolific and incessant live streaming of the fight through apps such as Periscope had analyst and investor Lou Kerner, founder of the Social Internet Fund, describing it as ‘a seminal moment in the history of internet video. He went on to comment that it was reminiscent of an formative event from a decade ago, where the Saturday Night Live sketch ‘Lazy Sunday’ was uploaded to YouTube, resulting in the video hosting site instantaneously becoming the fastest growing website the ‘net had ever seen. While hard numbers haven’t been released from the fight night, the hype surrounding the livestreams was significant enough to lead Twitter CEO Dick Costolo to announce post-fight that the real winner was Periscope.
There’s clearly some sort of seachange occurring in the online landscape. Of course, as it stands, copyright issues abound, but you can expect that to change once the powers that be get a grip on the phenomenon and introduce some regulations, similar to YouTube’s song recognising capabilities. But whatever happens, you can be sure the live video streaming is here to stay. So how did all this get started? We’ll begin by looking at the two dominating apps currently on the market, then look to the potential, promising future of video streaming with two bright new challengers to the crown.
Live video streaming is basically a result of unlimited mobile data packages become more widespread. Previously, Instagram and Snapchat focused on sharing images, the former promoting creativity and the latter occupied with casual, social interactions. Soon enough, both platforms started to introduce the sharing of snippets of pre-recorded video, though in Snapchat’s case it was usually very close to live, as you could only record in-app. However, as data package limits increased to infinity, people became very interested in true live, in-the-moment video. The internet is geared towards now, breeding a generation which requires instant gratification. It’s no wonder the idea of live streaming appeals to so many.
The first app out of the gate was Meerkat, so called because of the meerkat’s propensity to jut its head out of its den and scan its surroundings. Much like a periscope, and while actual meerkats remain blissfully ignorant of their mechanical counterparts, the rivalry between the app versions of these two bedfellows would soon become all too real. Meerkat was released in February 2015 and quickly found popularity through widespread use at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival the following month, leading to a $12 million venture capital investment soon after. A key to the app’s early success was its Twitter integration; it provided streams to every major event at South by South West, filling feeds with ‘Live Now’ tweets as attendees experimented with the new app. As many as 5,000 people can view a stream on the app, and it’s available for both iOS and Android for free. ‘There are no reruns’ is Meerkat’s guiding philosophy; everything is presented live. Users are able to guide the direction of the content through likes and comments, interacting with the broadcasters in real time. This live, edgy approach thrilled many users of the app, jaded as they were by Snapchat and Instagram’s blocky snippets of video.
And it’s hard to say anything more about Meerkat with out discussing the other big hitter in the live stream camp; Periscope. Despite being an integral part of Meerkat’s success, it soon became clear that Twitter had plans of its own. A mere few weeks after Meerkat debuted, Twitter pulled the rug on them by suddenly blocking Meerkat’s access to key information and statistics, making it very difficult for users to discover Meerkat streams within the Twittersphere. As a result of its singular live approach, many links are dead by the time they’re discovered on Twitter, essentially crippling Meerkat’s outreach via the ever-popular social platform.
You see, Twitter had its own dog in this fight. The social media titan quietly bought Periscope, a brand new video streaming app in January 2015 for a casual $100 million or thereabouts. Periscope builds on many of the key features that Meerkat pioneered, with one crucial difference; Periscope does not automatically tweet every stream, allowing users to control their audience and output. Another key difference is the fact that Periscope saves streamed content for twenty-four hours after the fact, doing away with the countless broken links experienced by Meerkat users in exchange for a little les spontaneity. Its interaction differs a little from its rival too; instead of liking streams on Periscope, you send ‘hearts’ to declare you approval. And you’re not limited to one either. You can send as many as you like during a broadcast, as well as comment in real time and interact with the broadcaster.
As you might have guessed, when it came to number of users, Periscope overtook Meerkat rapidly and significantly. However, both brands still have some top-level companies looking to experiment and invest in their platform; Periscope has attracted interest from Spotify and DKNY, while Meerkat courted MasterCard and Starbucks. What might surprise you is that usage figures for both apps on a whole is surprisingly low. Periscope reaches just 0.5% of iPhone and iPad users, while Meerkat falls lower at 0.1%, a remarkable difference to the 19% stake held by Twitter. Don’t be fooled though; you can expect these figures to grow and grow. As I’ve outlined, all this uproar occurred within the last couple of months; as companies and users get to grips with this new format, you can expect both apps to be serious players by the end of 2015, growing exponentially into the future. Those in the know have pegged this trend to be the next big hitter, and who are we to argue?
So, speaking of the future, what can we expect from other apps looking to ride the formidable tsunami wave of online video streaming? Well, the most intriguing of these is AireLive. This app, developed over a good few years and with a good few dollars, is a one-stop shop for social video networking. It provides live streaming, but also does everything else besides. You can send, share and stream any sort of video you care to shoot. It essentially takes all the proven avenues of social networking as we know it today and unites them all under one roof, resulting in a handy interface combining everything a user would need to stay on top of the online social game. It even includes four-way FaceChat, putting an end to those overcrowded Skype sessions and hopelessly out-of-sync Facebook chats.
AireLive has the right idea. Video is the way forward, and creating a platform where video is integrated as the nucleus of social interaction should stand the app in good stead as the format develops in the months and years to come. For the rest of us, this new and exciting world is only just beginning. Already a fad in trendier circles, you can expect to see online video streaming taking off very soon. If you’ve haven’t tried it yet, give it a whirl now (mainly to avoid being accused of jumping on the bandwagon when it all kicks off in a few months). Meerkat, Periscope and AireLive are all free to download on both iOS and Android. All that’s left for you to do is go ahead and create some ace content.