Meerkat, Periscope making live streaming 'interesting again'

The iPhone apps Meerkat and Periscope aren't the first to bring live mobile video streaming to smartphones, but their launch has made the medium "interesting again," says a media prof.
Periscope says it worked to disable streams of the fight. (Periscope)

The iPhone apps Meerkat and Periscope aren't the first to bring live mobile video streaming to smartphones, but their launch has made the medium "interesting again," says a media prof. 

"We've had webcams and the voyeuristic pleasure that goes along with that since the '90s," says Sidneyeve Matrix, an associate professor of media at Queen's University, specializing in digital culture.

"What's really fantastic about these two new apps is it's about webcams that move. It's about seeing the world through someone else's eyes," she says. 

Meerkat, which launched in late February, and Periscope, which arrived in late March, have two things previous live video streaming apps don't: buzz and big financial backers.

Periscope was bought by Twitter months before it even launched at the end of March, reportedly for $100 million. Meerkat, meanwhile, recently raised $12 million on its own, with investors putting its value at $40 million. 

With buzz comes new users, including celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, who are giving fans a live look behind the scenes. 

"Also, mainstream news journalism is lending these apps a lot of authenticity," says Matrix. 

The app's strong ties to an existing social network also set them apart.

Both apps can look through the people you follow on Twitter to see if they are using it too, so users don't have to start a social network from scratch. 

They also have elements of real-time interaction built into their live video streams.

Like Facebook, Meerkat has a "like" button that viewers can click at any time during the broadcast. Periscope has live comments that appear at the bottom of the video and users can also tap the screen to make little floating hearts appear. 

"Part of the magic is the two-way communication that these apps are enabling, with messaging and liking in real-time. It really brings live streaming to a new interactive level," says Matrix. 

"Certainly, this is more interesting than your average selfie," she says. "I think it's making live streaming interesting for perhaps the first time in a long time."

But even if the commenting system is more interesting, sometimes the content isn't. 

Anyone can put up a Periscope stream, and for any reason — like inviting people to watch them eat their lunch.

The first Periscope meme involved people giving viewers a live tour of their refrigerators. 

"It's easy to use these apps and it's not easy to use these apps well," says Matrix. 

On the other hand, there have been live mobile video streams of red-carpet premieres and tours of the pyramids at Giza. CBC reporters have used Periscope to live-stream protests in Montreal and at a news conference by Alberta premier. 

Chris Hadfield, an avid early adopter, even treated fans to a live look at him getting his moustache trimmed. 

But these videos don't last. Once a Meerkat stream is over, the video is gone for good. Periscope videos stay online for replays, but only for one day. Users do have the ability to save their own Periscope videos to their mobile devices, but comments and likes don't appear in these saved versions.

This is a departure from other online video services, like YouTube and Netflix, which store videos for users to watch anytime they want. 

"We are so used to bingeing on media on demand. That seems to be our preference," says Matrix. 

"But as we saw most recently with SnapChat, there's also a very mainstream desire for that kind of ephemeral and instant communication. We are very interested in coming together around media, which means live coverage of important events that are unfolding in real time," she says. 


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