Not since the days of Real Media vs. Windows Media vs. Quicktime has the online video world seen such a fierce rivalry like we have with the live mobile streaming broadcast apps Meerkat and Periscope. Meerkat was the first to hit the App Store, debuting on February 27. Launched just in time for SXSW, it was the belle of the ball in Austin, Texas, immediately attracting hype and accolades—and launching a bevy of live broadcasts (many presumably by people standing in interminable lines).
Twitter acquired the Periscope app—then in beta—in January, releasing it a month after Meerkat’s debut. Twitter is the corporate behemoth in this battle, and the company’s economic and technical might has caused many commentators to predict that Periscope will quickly dominate.
These platforms give marketers the opportunity to forge new channels of engagement with consumers, influencers, and stakeholders. Viewing a live stream is an opt-in experience, giving brands access to valuable willing eyeballs. The challenge, however, is to hold viewer attention with the right content and messaging.
Adventurous brands have already flocked to the new live stream ecosystem. Giving viewers special access is a strongly recurring theme. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon let fans on Meerkat watch his monologue rehearsals, while Ellen DeGeneres brings Periscope viewers backstage before her talk show goes live. Starbucks was an early adopter of Meerkat, streaming live from its Reserve Roastery in Seattle, Washington, and GE had its creator-in-residence Sally LePage broadcast on Periscope from behind the scenes of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s television show.
Celebrities have also been using live streams to connect directly and authentically with fans. One night on Periscope television host Maria Menounos broadcast from her bed while watching House of Cards, while in a separate stream actor Lenny Jacobson, who stars in the Comedy Central series Big Time in Hollywood, FL, led an impromptu Q&A.
Meerkat struck a deal with Madonna to live stream the debut of the video for her song “Ghosttown.” The battle for celebrity adoption is heating up so much that, according to TechCrunch, Twitter is contacting celebrities to convince them that Meerkat is dying.
Still, it’s too soon to say which app will reign supreme or declare one best for marketers. Each has its own advantages which we’ll compare here, while highlighting three distinctly different marketing approaches.
Periscope and Meerkat are free, and there’s no lock-in. That means there’s little risk to trying both and comparing for yourself.
Comparing Broadcast Features
Meerkat and Periscope let anyone with a smartphone start streaming video immediately, which is their key appeal. Type up a quick announcement, click “Stream,” and you’re broadcasting.
Both leverage Twitter to publicize live streams to followers, using hashtags (#meerkat and #periscope) to aid discovery. App users on either platform can follow accounts—though separately from Twitter—and get alerts when favorite broadcasters go live. Start a live stream and it will be advertised to all other Meerkat or Periscope app users.
Meerkat is truly instant-on and ready when you start the app. There is no camera preview or countdown—just click “stream” and you’re live. It pays to be prepared.
Periscope gives users a camera preview while they enter a message before broadcasting. It also provides options for sharing the location, setting the broadcast as private, restricting chatting to followed accounts, and choosing to tweet the Periscope URL or only publicize in-app.
Web browsers and app users can watch the streams, both platforms give more tools to app users. On Periscope and Meerkat, app users can send comments viewable to other app users and the host, but not to web viewers. Meerkat users click a heart button to like a stream while Periscope users show their approval by tapping the screen to unleash a floating cascade of hearts that everyone on the stream can see. Both apps display the number of viewers tuned in live.
Key Differences: Saving, Control, and Scheduling
At the end of the stream Meerkat displays how many total viewers you had and gives you the option to save the stream on your device. But that’s the only place the stream is saved. Once a Meerkat stream has ended it can’t be viewed on-demand, though you may share the saved file wherever you like.
With Periscope you can choose to save your stream to share on the platform for on-demand viewing for up to 24 hours. Viewer stats are available in your broadcast archive.
Interactive chatting is certainly one of the top features driving use. Of course, as with other social media, this can be a double-edged sword since you can’t moderate what viewers say during a broadcast. Only Periscope lets you moderate who can chat, or even block troublesome users. There’s no such option on Meerkat.
Another key difference is Meerkat’s ability to schedule streams, which can be advertised in advance on the app and on Twitter. For marketers who want to build anticipation for the live stream of an event this may be reason enough to prefer it.
Scheduling a Successful Event with Meerkat
According to digital media strategist Kate McCurry, “Scheduling is better to build the excitement and interest in the stream.” That’s why she chose Meerkat for the University of Kansas’s first live stream.
A crew of researchers from the Paleobiology Department was returning from an expedition in Antarctica with boxes of rare fossils. “They had been on this expedition for seven weeks,” McCurry said. They told her, “We’ll be unwrapping these like presents on Christmas morning.”
She saw the event as an opportunity to highlight the university’s research to a global audience of prospective students, alumni, and science nerds, giving a peek at something few ever see. “There was an opportunity to show the human interest and the people behind the programs… to show their passion,” she said.
“I sent out the 30-minute warning [on Twitter] when the truck arrived,” McCurry explained. Between then and the broadcast she tweeted links to download the Meerkat app, along with links to a blog post. “It’s important to keep people plugged in until you go live,” she explained. “It’s really essential.”
A total of 313 users watched the stream, asking dozens of questions throughout. McCurry regards the broadcast as a success. She also likes that the stream isn’t available on-demand. “I love the idea of having this fear of missing out,” she said.
Building Audience With Periscope
FoodBeast publisher Elie Ayrouth has used Periscope to host more than a dozen streams that sync with the site’s millennial-targeted, foodie-focused content. The site has broadcast live from a butcher shop and a sandwich shop, having its hosts tell war stories and field viewer’s questions. “Traditionally we would have hooked up with a Reddit AMA [Ask me anything], but this model has been fun to do and easy to replicate,” he said.
“The first time you hop into a Periscope stream you can sense the liveness, even as a viewer,” Ayrouth explained. “Being able to answer questions adds serendipity and magic.”
He likes the live aspect so much that, “what Periscope has done is made us feel like Instagram is already past.”
Though Ayrouth said it’s a little early to draw strict conclusions, “In terms of building an audience we got a ton of new followers out of it. Now they have a sense of our sensibility.”
Selling With Streams
Graphic artist Mike McDonald of Embers Studio has been conducting Meerkat broadcasts to discuss his work designing icons and stock images. He takes questions about his industry and doles out advice on breaking in. He calls a recent stream that attracted 700 viewers a success.
“The icing on the cake was the more tangible results,” McDonald said. “During the broadcast I talked about a t-shirt design, and I had three sales of the shirt. I also had three inquiries for custom-design work. These turned out to be solid leads.”
Although not a windfall, McDonald concluded that “For the time invested I got a good return. I got more out of a broadcast than months of social media.”