In the Seven League office we have a league table for our mobile live stream audiences. In third place, it's Antonia eating Nandos. The silver medallist is an open bag of Haribo Tangfastics. The winner - thankfully - is our live stream of the UFC 189 press conference featuring Conor McGregor and current lightweight world champion Jose Aldo. The impact of Meerkat and Periscope on the digital playing field is indisputable, but what does it mean for sport? And what would happen if we had two bags of Tangfastics?
To start with the latter question, early user experimentation with the likes of Periscope and Meerkat has largely involved food. As with the birth of Twitter and Instagram, users' first port of call for content is something everyone can enjoy, which leads to the proliferation of the mundane. TechCrunch spotted over 700 people watching a live stream of a motionless pineapple on Meerkat for over five minutes. Why? The expectation of something greater? The belief of already being part of something greater? The problem isn't the pineapple, but, as Ben Rubin, Meerkat founder, points out, "We're in an exploratory phase".
Following the explosion of journalistic delight over these new platforms, the 'exploratory phase' is causing a sense of unease. It began when Twitter launched Periscope, their rival to Meerkat, and it was an instant hit. The hyperbolic praise lavished upon Meerkat now shifted towards the new kid in town and Periscope soared to the iPhone Top 30 in the US in its opening weekend (28-29 March), a rare feat for a new breed of social media app. In contrast, Meerkat's ranking spiralled down the iPhone download charts to a lowly number 523. This resulted in another raft of opinion pieces focused upon the underdog. Searching for 'Meerkat dead' produces arguments from both sides (alongside some quite distressing images). Periscope's tactic of attracting key influencers has helped it to achieve far greater staying power thus far, but its great source of content is still people's fridges.
Meerkat vs. Periscope: The Stats
Twitter analytics tool Topsy shows a clear trend in activity which suggests that Meerkat is declining. Daily links fell from nearly 30,000 on 25 March to 6,600 daily links just a month later. On its opening weekend, Periscope achieved a fantastic spike of 49,953 tweets but the Twitter-backed platform's usage has also declined, with a settled average of 20,000 daily links.
Meerkat vs. Periscope vs. The Competition
Maybe we're comparing apples with oranges, especially with an orange the size of The Huffington Post, but these upstart platforms have a significant gap to bridge when it comes to content being shared. Not that the platforms aren't the right ones to get excited about, but we believe they've not yet had their 'moment'.
One of Twitter's big watershed moments came in early 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 landed in New York's Hudson river. Users across the city provided their view point, showcasing Twitter as a platform for breaking news and communication. Periscope has come closest in late March when dozens of live-streams covered a gas explosion in New York. It may not have ignited a worldwide revolution, but it highlighted its incredible potential (though the emoticons limited to hearts set a disconcerting foreground to the smoke and chaos being recorded behind). Live video apps can, and will, break news and connect users before and beyond broadcast limitations. This is where the world of sport comes in.
Live broadcasting is risky and exciting. The adrenaline of sport is what raises it above other events, and a passionate digital audience is a perfect match for this rush. Clubs and athletes across the world have already jumped onto this latest technological bandwagon with varying levels of success and there is clearly a way to go. Early adopters have showcased press conferences and training sessions, but this is the tip of the iceberg. How does it feel inside the changing rooms? Team meetings? In the tunnel? If integrated, and if sporting organisations are willing to take the risk, they have the potential to open a whole new type of content, all through the lens of a smartphone.
There's a long way to go before we can define the true value of live video coverage. However with every user now able to become a content producer, it is essential to invest time and energy into the narrative you want your fans to be involved in. With Meerkat, Periscope, and even dark horse Stre.am evolving the video game once more, jumping onto this bandwagon is a wise decision. And it's going to take more than a bag of Haribo to nail it.