How to Succeed like Meerkat & Periscope
“Don’t text or tweet during the show. Just live your life. Don’t keep telling people what you’re doing!”
Comedian Louis C K begins his gig at The Beacon Theater (Manhattan) with this profound announcement. And even though he followed up his announcement with the equally profound “because your phone lights up your dumb faces”, it’s hard to ignore how accurately that opening statement sums up a substantial part of our lives today. ‘Our lives’ have increasingly become a patchwork of oddments borrowed from so many others’ through images, videos or bite-sized 140 character essays. The most exciting splash in this kind of internet zeitgeist is the arrival of live video streaming applications – Meerkat and Periscope. These apps have been the belles of the ball, particularly in Silicon Valley’s print media.
Meerkat and Periscope allow users to broadcast live video streams to millions of followers over Twitter’s platform. The generous media spotlight cast on the issue has thus far been focused on three narrow aspects:
- The Game:
With updates being introduced even as you read this, exploring the features and functions of the two competing apps remains exciting even two weeks down the release. Periscope slam dunks this one, with its cleaner UI, 24-hour save and replay option and better privacy control speaking to the solid year this app spent in the lab.
- The Players:
A live commentary of who is in the lead in terms of capturing users (which is also the only race the two are currently running, since neither app generates revenue yet). It is far from a two-horse race, however, since YouNow has been operating and gathering users for over a year now. In fact, this third darker horse is the only one with a revenue generating business model in place.
- The Rules:
Regulatory issues surrounding Live Streaming particularly in the context of privacy, piracy, censoring hate speech and obscenity are already generating buzz. Given the format of a live broadcast, monitoring content is an enormous challenge; the instant dissemination of information renders any remedy moot. The extent of information view-able is a further concern, with GeoTag features disclosing alarmingly accurate locations. Enabling tiered options for location and introducing nuanced privacy options would go a long way into ensuring some level of security and troll-filtration.
Even as we wait for the dust to settle on these fronts, a primary question begs indulgence: With over 15,000 new apps hitting popular mobile platforms every month, why is a derivative idea like Live Streaming being hailed the biggest internet innovation since the selfie?
The answer lies at two points of impact – the viewer and the broadcaster. Periscope and Meerkat’s success lies firstly in scaling up the reach of a broadcaster’s live stream far beyond a Google Hangouts group, and secondly, by juicing a viewer’s inexplicable obsession with reality.
When the first film of the Paranormal activity series surfaced, it was successfully marketed as real footage procured from a salvaged camcorder. “Is paranormal activity real?” trended as the most ‘Googled’ question for over a month. The result: a film with a $15,000 budget raked in 193 Million USD worldwide. The sequel, without the ‘reality’ factor, was a 3 Million dollar film that made considerably less than its $15,000 predecessor. There is an inexplicable thrill in watching something that we believe is real and this is equally true, if not more, of watching a live stream. Logically, for most videos online, a viewer should feel no difference between watching a YouTube upload 30 seconds fresh and a live stream. But over generations, we seem to have naturally-selected logic out of our gene pool in order to accentuate our video viewing experience.
The stamp of authenticity attached to live streams makes it easier to filter troll profiles and adds credibility to a broadcast. The element of uncertainty makes for extremely exciting viewing. Most importantly, Periscope allows the viewer to comment on the stream and possibly affect the broadcast itself. From pointing out something that the broadcaster may not have noticed to guiding the actual shooting of the footage, this interaction achieves exactly what the apps set out to achieve: a glimpse of teleportation!
Scale up the Sonder
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines “sonder” as the realization that each passerby, each lit window, each elbow in a crowd is a life, as unique and complex as your own; a story invisible to you in which you may only appear as a passerby or an extra. Live streaming apps take us one step closer to sharing a small part in millions of stories. It’s an inexhaustible, ever-growing buffet of lives in the public domain with which one may connect, share and borrow.
Shakespeare wrote about universal themes such as lust, greed, envy, pride, honor and regret. There is an inherent hilarity in experiencing this live in action when jealous lovers and vengeful exes from one place watch their innermost feelings echoed from every corner of the world. Further, when one has been fired or dumped or been booed off the stage for the 5th week in a row, nothing feels better than watching someone around the world have an even worse day. It’s therapeutic. Like yoga. Or cat GIFs.
But while some find joy in connections and validation, others find their peace in the ringing of cash registers and these too will be quick to take to the apps. Amazon could provide, for a premium charge, live streaming of recipients’ reactions when drones deliver parcels to them. Celebrities could live stream advertisements cutting shooting and distribution costs drastically, while reaching millions of viewers. Customer service could save on site visits, and the travel and tourism business could produce a spike in business that listicles can’t dream of catalyzing.
With Meerkat now hitting Android, Live Streaming apps hold great promise for corporate palate and unprecedented empowerment for every individual user. Where utility and indulgence are at par, Severus Snape’s iconic words perfectly capture why Meerkat or Periscope will succeed: They bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. They could help you bottle fame and brew glory. Meerkat and Periscope make the fine line between science and magic, a great deal finer.