Meerkat is one of the most prominent stories to come out of this week’s SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. Its meteoric rise to public consciousness is being compared to the launch of Twitter in 2007 at SXSW and the launch of Foursquare in 2009. At the SXSW Interactive conference, we closely monitored and used Meerkat to see what the potential of this high-profile new application is in media and for advertisers.
What is Meerkat? Meerkat is a mobile application, currently only available for Apple mobile products running OS 8.0 or higher that streams live video directly from the user’s phone camera. It is built to utilize Twitter as a way to broadcast live video to Twitter users who also have the application.
How does it work? Meerkat taps into the existing Twitter ecosystem to notify users’ Twitter followers that a live stream has been initiated. Once a user makes a selection to schedule or stream, their Twitter account posts a notice to their followers with an announcement of the event and a link to the live stream. Any Twitter user with the Meerkat application installed may view the stream through the Meerkat application. Any Meerkat user may “retweet” the link or the live stream to their followers, favorite the application and comment to the community through text, much like in the Twitter interface itself.
Meerkat gained even more attention on March 14 when Twitter blocked some features, allowing Meerkat users to connect to their Twitter followers directly through the app. Twitter had announced the day before their purchase of a similar service called Periscope, which we are sure to hear from soon.
The live video does not remain on any public servers or cloud storage at this time. Once the stream is stopped, the initiator may choose to save the stream to their phone. Meerkat founder Ben Rubin indicated in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this past weekend that there are plans to allow users to save videos and republish them. As of Monday evening, Meerkat added search functionality to allow users to search for other users to “follow” in much the same way that Twitter allows its users to build communities.
What makes people want to use it? What makes this platform so attractive to users is the way it democratizes live broadcasting to the public in general. We anticipate people will utilize this platform (or any other similar platform that may emerge) for journalism, entertainment and storytelling in real time, much the same way most other video platforms enable those opportunities. Quite simply, this allows everyone on the planet to project their POV globally with sight, sound and motion in real time. The only restrictions on that ability right now that we can see are battery life and bandwidth.
Is it a viable advertising platform? Maybe. The potential is certainly there for any advertiser who wishes to broadcast live content. One of the more interesting features of this application is that it allows any Meerkat user to view any other live stream. There is no ability to control who may or may not view a live stream. This could be a strength and a drawback for advertisers who wish to take advantage of the tool. There are literally no available metrics that we are aware of for us to ascertain or measure ROI. There is, however a scoring metric. Every user has a score attached to them and the platform makes available, via an icon, the ability to view the highest 40-50 scoring users. It could, however, prove valuable as a measure of progress or pacing for an advertiser until more ways of measuring success are available.
As for advertising, we have not personally seen any live streamed advertising content, but we did see that several major brands, including MasterCard, Spotify and even the Miami Dolphins NFL team are listed as users. Advertisers who are well poised to take advantage of this platform are likely those with large groups of avid fans on Twitter who have a well-developed, flexible means of creating meaningful content. Any brand can broadcast using Meerkat right now. There are no costs and they don’t need permission.
Should advertisers do anything now? We believe advertisers should monitor the adoption of this application very closely as well as other competitors that are rushing into the live-streaming space. There are sure to be many options in this space soon. We expect to see major media partners quickly adopt the platform in new and unique ways and we expect powerful voices to emerge via the platform as well, just as YouTube, Vine and Instagram have produced influential users with large followings. It is simply a matter of time before Meerkat brings a plan to monetize the platform to the advertising and investment communities. Advertisers should download the application and experiment personally to experience what users experience and monitor the platform for changes and alterations.
Adam Weiler leads strategic research efforts on behalf of all Spark clients, including proprietary research and tools, and tapping into best-in-class industry resources.