March 31, 2015

Only a couple of weeks ago, Meerkat was THE app that journalists were trying out to stream live video to Twitter. Only last week, Meerkat got a $14 million infusion from investors. It may be a bit of an overstatement, but one article is already declaring that “Meerkat is dying.”

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Last week, Twitter itself launched a new competitor to Meerkat, Periscope. Like Meerkat Periscope uses the Apple iOS 7.1 platform.

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Periscope has one significant advantage over Meerkat. Periscope points out, “When your broadcast is over, you can make it available for replay so viewers can watch later. Viewers can replay your broadcast with comments and hearts to relive the full experience. Replays currently last 24 hours. You can delete your replay at any time.” Meerkat is more like Snapchat, when the show is done, the video is gone unless you save it to your camera roll and post it separately, say on YouTube. It is a hassle.

Periscope has skyrocketed to the list of top 50 free iOS apps downloaded this week. And some tech experts are already declaring Periscope to be “better” than Meerkat.

Meerkat may find it increasingly difficult to compete with Periscope since Twitter controls Periscope and Twitter is the one place Meerkat sends users. So Meerkat responded to Periscope with upgrades. Techcrunch reports that Meerkat is adding features that will deliver “recommendations of people to follow, a way to follow people from inside streams, and ways to discover streams your friends like. It’s also trying to neutralize some Periscope talking points like Meerkat being too publicly chatty by letting users opt out of syndicating their comments to Twitter.”

But Meerkat’s problem don’t end with Periscope. A few weeks ago, STRE.AM was born. It is a less user-friendly but Android-friendly video streaming app.

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And even more recently an app called Tarsii was born to look like Meerkat. It adapted the yellow logo with a cute creature, even the functionality and features look like Meerkat, but Tarsii works on the Android platform.

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The potential that all of these apps have to easily deliver live-breaking video is clear. But as often happens with technology, there is a learning curve about how to use these tools to attract significant enough audiences to be worth the effort.

So where should journalists spend their effort? Some tell us they are trying out everything.

Canada’s CBC has been test-driving Periscope a lot recently. The CBC Kitchener website used Periscope to live stream the mayor’s State of the City speech. CBC has used Periscope for breaking news at the scene of the New York City explosion last week and a number of CBC journalists from photographers to radio personalities also have given it a whirl. CBC’s national reporter in Ottawa tried Meerkat on the daily political show.

CBC’s Michael Bolen, a social media producer for Social Media and Trends told me by email:

I think these tools are amazing for going behind the scenes of making the news. I thought Al Roker’s stream from backstage at the Today Show was a smart use of this.

All these streaming services are also powerful tools for journalists at the scene of breaking news or watching a press conference. We’re always looking to give our reporters any and all tools that will help them tell stories in more immediate and immersive ways.

And traffic generating arguments aside, these streaming services are clearly blowing up. People are using them. What will they become in the future? Who knows. But it makes sense to be part of that conversation, to be part of the process of shaping their use and to build audience on a new platform in the process.

Simon Oster, an associate assignment editor at CTV Toronto told me by email:

(I have) Just been playing around with Periscope and Meerkat the last couple of weeks. I find Periscope more user friendly, the interface a little easier to operate and the option to save the recorded video a real plus.

It’s wild how quickly this social live streaming is taking off. I went through the carwash and instantly had 30 viewers join in and comment as it went down. Obviously not a lot of news value in this but I can only imagine what it would look like at the G8 or another major protest/event.

On Monday, NBC announced, “NBC News has become the first television news organization to launch an official account on Kik. It is place where the youngest social media users are gathering in big numbers now. The NBCNEWS account allows Kik users to discover and share real-time news content tailored to the topics they care about most.”

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With so many apps opening up for journalists to use, it is probably right to dabble in all of them, become fluent if not proficient and be open to good opportunities to use them. Don’t worry at first about how many people see your work. Just get good at using the technology. Spring storm season, floods and spring wildfire season is upon us. There is opportunity in confusion and breaking news creates plenty of both. Be ready to experiment with ways to serve your public in new ways.

Related: Meerkat vs. Periscope: What are the tech journos saying?

Correction: An earlier version of this story linked to a line from a TechCrunch story but didn’t put it in quotes. It was a direct quote from the story and we have added attribution.

Correction to the correction: The above correction stated that a line was missing attribution. What it was actually missing was a close quote, which the editor didn’t catch. It has been added.

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