Meerkat, the new livestreaming app that works with Twitter, has hit the headlines. Reports from the South By SouthWest Festival in Austin, Texas, suggest that it was almost the only topic of conversation. So what is it, and more importantly, how could it help your business?

Livestreaming via Twitter

To put it simply, Meerkat is an app that allows you to stream video live to your Twitter followers. Just start recording on your smartphone using the Meerkat app, and you will automatically tweet a link to the live feed to all your Twitter followers. And unlike YouTube, when you turn off the ‘record’ button, that’s it. It’s gone. No review, no looking again. The live streams can only be watched live. And interestingly, that drives users to watch now, because anything could happen.

Will it be big? It already is. Meerkat launched on 27 February this year, and within a week had 28,000 users. It appears to have gone viral around the world. Astonishingly, more than one third of users are reported to watch for more than two hours per day.

But perhaps the most potent symbol of its potential impact is that within a month of its launch, Twitter has already jumped into the space, acquiring a rival live streaming service called Periscope. What’s more, at the same time, Twitter cut off Meerkat’s access to the Twitter social graph, the information about who is following who. And while this doesn’t mean Meerkat can’t still work with Twitter, it does make it a lot more difficult.

What use is Meerkat?

There is a lot of webspace being used to discuss Meerkat at the moment. The entire tech press appears to be Meerkatting (or should that be Meercasting?) and then writing about it on a more or less daily basis, which is making for some entertaining reading. The livestreams available at any given moment may be slightly less exciting, but that’s probably because people are just trying it out right now.

Commentators have not been slow to point out that live video streaming could change broadcasting for ever. Twitter has already had a huge impact on news services. But just think about a few recent news events: the hostage crisis in Paris, maybe, or events in the Middle East. People involved could tweet about what was happening, and post pictures. But until Meerkat, there wasn’t a way to show live footage from inside a news story. Reporters have not been slow to realise the potential for disruption, and Meerkat has already been used to stream live images from demonstrations in Missouri.

The big news broadcasters recognise this potential, too, and they have been among the early adopters. For example, CNN’s Brian Stelter has used it to broadcast behind-the-scenes footage from his programme. Other early adopters have been estate agents conducting virtual open house tours. The Miami Dolphins football team used it to announce team changes, and more than 1000 people tuned in. What this effectively means is that organisations can cut out the ‘middleman’, the formal press conference, and just go direct to the public.

Brands have also got in on the action, with Starbucks conducting virtual tours. Red Bull, in what one commentator described on Twitter as ‘first brand using Meerkat effectively’, has live streamed snowboarding events.

Where next?

‘Where next?’ is the big question for Meerkat, especially  now Twitter has thrown a spanner in the works by cutting off access to the social graph. Ben Rubin, Meerkat’s founder, claims that is not a massive problem, because they always knew it would happen sooner or later. But it’s hard not to wonder about the impact.

Fundamentally, the big issue is to grow and become more of a going concern, and less of an experiment. At the moment, Meerkat is the latest Twitter craze, but can that momentum be sustained? There’s also the little issue of an Android app. Meerkat is currently only available on iPhones, although a full Android app is reported to be on its way.

Whether or not Meerkat itself survives, it seems live video streaming is here to stay. Its immediate popularity suggests that it has hit a gap in the market and tapped into a genuine need or desire. But will Meerkat be the one that makes it big? Its own founder reckons that there will be several companies competing in the space, and he just hopes his ‘baby’ will be one of them.

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