Thursday, April 2, 2015, 1:01 PM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
For the past couple of weeks, it's been nearly impossible to avoid the media coverage around 2 new mobile live-streaming apps, Meerkat and Periscope (which Twitter acquired back in January). But a lot of what I've read has focused on ginning up a winner-take-all battle between these 2 nascent apps. As a result, the bigger story here has been missed - that we may be seeing the early days of another important new video category.
Having played with both Meerkat and Periscope over the past week, I've become pretty convinced that mobile live-streaming, while still very raw-feeling, has a lot of potential across numerous personal and professional applications, both spontaneous and scheduled.
First, if you haven't used either Meerkat or Periscope, both of which are free, it's well worth trying them out. There are some differences in UI and features, but the core service is the same - the ability to originate video via a smartphone and have anyone, anywhere in the world, tune in to the broadcast. Within the video, the viewer can favorite/like the video and add comments. The video quality in both apps is very strong, considering the inconsistencies of mobile broadband connectivity. Of all the broadcasts I've watched, only a handful have been cutoff.
Finding something to actually watch is one of the big challenges of both apps. There's a certain serendipitous, not to mention voyeuristic, feeling to flipping through the broadcasts within these apps, as you're never sure what you'll stumble on next. However, the novelty of doing so quickly wears off. To help address this, Periscope just released an update that puts broadcasts from people you follow at the top of the app, ahead of the rabble of broadcasts you probably have no interest in, which is a useful first step.
But it seems to me that the mobile live-steaming broadcasts that will ultimately succeed will fall into one of three categories: (1) breaking news, (2) pre-scheduled and promoted broadcasts and (3) broadcasts that are companions to larger events (TV shows, sports events, etc.). Since it's an early market, no doubt there will be more as well.
Breaking news is a slam-dunk for mobile live-streaming, a glimpse of which we got with the big NYC fire last week. The ability for a passersby to start broadcasting live on-location is a perfect application of mobile live-streaming. Of course, breaking news is unpredictable, which is why I think the idea of pre-scheduled and promoted broadcasts make a lot of sense. On the personal side, it could be things like, "Tune in at xyz time on Saturday to watch my piano recital or to see me in a ski race). In the GoPro era, the idea of broadcasting live makes viewing even more compelling.
Meanwhile, on the professional side, it could be "Tune in at xyz time, when I'll be at such and such conference, interviewing thought-leaders). Or how about a live travel show, shot on location in some exotic locale? By planning ahead and messaging audiences of live-streams, there's a much higher likelihood of viewership.
Finally, the ability to add companion mobile live-streams to existing events, like TV award shows (Oscars, etc.) and sports events opens up a whole new opportunity for authentic, in-the-moment video. Imagine, for example, certain fans broadcasting from their seats in the stadium, or at parties, to provide live commentary on games.
In short, I think the idea of live mobile streaming, enabled on both the broadcaster's and viewer's end by ubiquitous smartphones and solid broadband connectivity, has lots of potential across different applications. Advertisers too will be interested, because ads aren't skipped in live streams. It's still the first inning for mobile live-streaming, but, as Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at F8 last week, he foresees video as being the primary form of expression in 5 years. Once mobile live-streaming programming becomes more developed, I think Zuckerberg's vision could become reality.