Will Meerkat or Periscope Win the Livestreaming Battle?

Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

Source: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

Since two competing livestreaming apps burst onto the tech scene to much hype, they’ve prompted a variety of questions. Why would livestreaming apps take off now when their predecessors have failed over and over again? How will Meerkat and Periscope differentiate their apps? And in the battle for the (small) audience for livestreaming apps, which will come out ahead?

TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez writes that Twitter is doing everything in its power to make sure that Periscope, the livestreaming app it acquired, beats independent competitor Meerkat. Twitter has not only cut off Meerkat’s access to its social graph, but has been contacting celebrities who use Meerkat to try to convince them to use Periscope instead, and getting in touch with media companies who use Meerkat to imply that if they don’t exclusively use Periscope, it could cut off their access to Amplify, a product that pairs media companies with brands to create promoted tweets based around video clips.

The rival apps, which both enable smartphone users to broadcast live video to their Twitter followers from their smartphones, are competing for users as they roll out improvements to their services. Meerkat has introduced new discovery features and recommendations while Periscope has made it easier for users to find broadcasts from their friends. And Meerkat beat Periscope to offering an Android app, though access to it is still by invitation only.

But Perez reports that Twitter’s Periscope still has the advantage over Meerkat in that it controls the social platform on which both apps are built. “Meerkat allows you to stream live video from your phone to all of your Twitter followers at once. Press ‘Stream’, and instantly your live video stream shows up in your follower’s Twitter feeds,” reads Meerkat’s App Store description. Twitter also has the resources to court celebrities and media companies to use Periscope — or strong-arm them into using Periscope by threatening to cut off their access to products like Amplify — and has more engineering and marketing resources to put behind its platform than Meerkat does.

According to data from 7Park, Periscope overtook Meerkat in terms of monthly active users during the week of March 22, when Meerkat had a 0.2% reach on iOS (its users as a percentage of the millions of iOS users in the U.S.) and Periscope had a 0.3% reach. The next week, the gap between them widened as Meerkat’s reach slipped to 0.1% and Periscope’s increased by 0.5%. But these numbers are still very low, and indicate that the two services are battling over what remains a very small user base. (For reference, Perez notes, Twitter reaches about 19% of U.S. iOS users while its Vine video app reaches 5.4%, and Snapchat reaches 29.8%.)

Not long ago, Tero Kuittinen, writing for BGR, proclaimed that “Meerkat is dying,” and noted that the app “had never been a hit to begin with.” He reported that Meerkat’s highest daily ranking on the U.S. iPhone download chart was No. 140, on March 20, a date by which it had generated thousands of news stories and blog posts describing the app as a hit. “But actual American consumers never showed the slightest sign of warming up,” Kuittinen reports.

Meerkat didn’t even approach the top 100 chart in the United States, even though a dozen new apps get into the top 100 each week. Meerkat, on the other hand, “underperformed your average Croatian Flappy Bird clone or the 10th most popular diner simulation of the past year,” Kuittinen notes, and the disproportional media frenzy influenced an “incomprehensible” funding round. “Apps that don’t crack the top 100 during their debut run almost never turn out to be viable, no matter how much they are tinkered with. This is the basic axiom of the mobile app industry.”

While livestreaming apps have yet to take off among a mainstream audience, video is expected to be a major part of Twitter’s future — and a successful livestreaming platform could represent a new source of ad revenue. Livestreaming could boost the time users spend interacting with Twitter and increase how many users are logged in, whether the lives videos shared on Twitter originate in Periscope, Meerkat, or another app. Twitter has traditionally had trouble converting visitors into registered users, and recently rolled out a new landing page to give logged-out users a view of what top users are sharing on the service. It’s not difficult to envision how a section on popular video livestreams could be featured on this page in the future.

But Meerkat will likely find competing against Twitter and its established platform impossible, especially because Twitter cut off its access to the Twitter social graph. Meerkat’s early popularity, the technical skill of its team, and the excitement around its niche success could make it an acquisition target for other major social players. But for Meerkat’s moment in the spotlight to extend to longer-term success as a mainstream app or social network-replacement is a long shot.

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