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The 7 Commandments of Video-Streaming Apps

Mobile live-streaming video apps Meerkat and Periscope have received a lot of press this year. Meerkat was the darling of SXSW and Periscope was the big Twitter acquisition that stole some of Meerkat’s thunder.

Despite the advertised novelty of these apps, Meerkat and Periscope are simply the latest iteration of live-streaming video apps. Google Hangouts On-Air, UStream and Spreecast are examples of live-streaming video applications that have been around longer and that perform many of the same functions as their upstart brethren.

Here’s the blasphemous part of this post: some of the older live-video platforms may be more appropriate for communication professionals and marketers than the most buzzed-about apps.

What I want to do in this post is identify seven key characteristics to consider when evaluating a live-streaming app, and then take a look at these five platforms by each of those criteria. If you’re buying into the hype around Meerkat and Periscope, you might be surprised to learn the differences between these platforms.

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Why You May Not Want to Believe the Hype of Meerkat and Periscope

Live mobile video is the logical next step from the guerrilla-style behind-the-scenes “exclusive” content popularized by Snapchat, Vine, and Instagram Video. The aforementioned social juggernauts have one clear advantage over the Meerkat and Periscope platforms: a bigger share of audience. Consider this quote from the Daily Dot’s AJ Dellinger in a piece that he wrote about the relative popularity of these apps:

“There are games you’ve never heard of, services you’ve never used, and apps dedicated to nothing but producing fart noises that have more downloads and users than Meerkat and Periscope do.”

AdWeek also reports that general awareness of these apps is relatively low. And in the cited survey, the question was asked in the hypothetical which is apt to be more optimistic than a survey of actual behavior.

One of the predecessor networks that many writers use to compare live-streaming video apps to is justin.tv, which despite reportedly having 41 million unique visitors failed to turn profitable and shuttered in 2014. Many people wonder if justin.tv couldn’t adequately monetize their audience, will the Meerkats and Periscopes of the world be able to either.

Monetization means little to a publisher or end-user right now, so we have to have another way to measure how effective a live-streaming video service would be for you to propagate content to your audience. Here are the seven criteria we’ll consider:

  • Organic Distribution – How big is the network?
  • Extended Distribution – Can live streams be embedded on other web properties (thus increasing the distribution)?
  • Persistence – Are videos saved? Do they disappear?
  • Fidelity – What is the expected quality of the content that you will post to the network?
  • Mobile – Can you shoot content via mobile?
  • Engagement – How easily can people engage your videos on the platform?
  • Cost – how much does it cost to publish?

Another aspect that isn’t entirely quantifiable but should be considered is prestige. It’s well known that Facebook Likes and social shares don’t correlate to conversion or sales and can be (pretty) easily manipulated.

The reason to buy a Facebook Like or to manipulate social sharing isn’t for anything tangible; it is for the prestige that comes with having 100,000 Twitter followers or 10,000 Facebook Likes.

Point being that we can analyze these networks and you may still want to publish content on Periscope (which — spoiler alert — has the worst distribution potential because of its limited embedding options). It may be a reasonable decision to publish for prestige rather than because there is a great organic audience out there. So long as it’s an informed decision…

Meerkat

Meerkat was launched in February 2015 and gained a lot of buzz at South by Southwest the following month. It began deeply integrated with the Twitter API, until Twitter restricted their access after their acquisition of Periscope.

Here’s what a live stream from Meerkat looks like:


Meerkat’s user interface is described as a little cluttered relative to other live-streaming apps, but it is similar in function to its chief rival, Periscope.

Advanced creators on Meerkat probably should know about the Cameo feature, which allows another user to take over a Meerkat live stream for up to 60 seconds.

So, how does Meerkat stack up against our live-stream criteria?

Organic Distribution – The network is reported to have about 2 million users and appears to have diminished growth relative to Periscope as evidenced by app downloads.

Extended Distribution – Meerkat offers its users the opportunity to broadcast live on their own web property using the Meerkat embed code.

Persistence – Videos on Meerkat disappear, although you can use the Katch service to record and upload the video to the Katch cloud, where you can download it for use elsewhere (YouTube or Vimeo for example).

Here’s a video about how Katch works:

Fidelity – Meerkat is a mobile-only app, so fidelity will depend upon your phone/device and the speed of your Internet connection.

Mobile – You can only shoot video from a mobile device on Meerkat.

Engagement – People who are logged onto Meerkat can interact with your content. They can comment, use emojis, re-stream, or “heart” it.

Cost – Meerkat is free to use.

Periscope

Periscope was acquired by Twitter in early 2015 for $100 million and launched in March 2015. Users say that Periscope has a more intuitive interface, that its integration with Twitter is better (duh) and as a result, its audience appears to have surpassed Meerkat’s substantially.

Here’s what a Periscope broadcast looks like:

(On a side note, how great is Demi Lovato?)

So, how does Periscope stack up against our live-stream criteria?

Organic Distribution – Twitter just announced that Periscope surpassed 10 million users this month. App download data seems to confirm that Periscope has eclipsed Meerkat’s usage.

Extended Distribution – You can’t organically embed Periscope broadcasts on your site, but you can use the frame attribute with the feed url as a makeshift embed. In other words, this is not easily accomplished.

Persistence – Videos remain archived for 24 hours, although you can also use the Katch service to upload them to the Katch cloud, and download them to YouTube or Vimeo (or something else?)

Fidelity – Periscope is a mobile-only app, so fidelity will depend upon your phone/device and the speed of your Internet connection.

Mobile – You can only shoot video from a mobile device on Periscope.

Engagement – Periscope users can comment and “heart” your stream.

Cost – Periscope is free to use.

Hangouts On-Air

Google Hangouts On-Air is a live-streaming version of Google Hangouts, deeply integrated with YouTube. It doesn’t have an organic audience built in, although you can invite people by email or social to join. Of course, one of the benefits of Hangouts is that you can have ten people in the actual broadcast (if you care to).

Hangouts On-Air isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Meerkat or Periscope, but has similar (actually, better) features.

Here’s how Hangouts On-Air compares by our seven criteria:

Organic Distribution – Not applicable. There isn’t a network specific to Hangouts On-Air, although you can invite people to watch upcoming HOAs via email or social.

Extended Distribution – Yes. It’s more or less the same process as a YouTube embed.

Persistence – Videos are saved in perpetuity on your Hangouts On-Air page and your YouTube channel (and they can be edited on YouTube).

Fidelity – Up to HD quality with the right equipment.

Mobile – You can’t initiate a broadcast via mobile, but you can initiate on desktop and broadcast on mobile by using the cameraman app.

Engagement – Similar to YouTube. You can also use the Q&A app to get feedback ahead of time.

Cost – Hangouts On-Air is free to use.

UStream

UStream is an eight-year-old live-streaming video company that works on a freemium model (although the free plan is ad-supported and lower fidelity than the pro plans). UStream also is relatively expensive (their lowest paid plan runs $99 per month). That said, UStream is also capable of producing some of the highest-fidelity live streams of all platforms.

This is the quality of live broadcast that UStream can deliver (given proper equipment):

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

This is probably a more realistic idea of the quality of broadcast that you can achieve with UStream (This is one of my all-time favorite UStream channels, TAXI music. Michael Laslow does a phenomenal job with music production-related content):

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Here’s how UStream compares by our seven criteria:

Organic Distribution – N/A

Extended Distribution – Live streams and archives can be embedded on other web properties.

Persistence – All UStream videos are archived.

Fidelity – HD and below. Depending upon the quality of your equipment, the speed of your Internet connection, and the level of your plan.

Mobile – Yes. UStream has a mobile app for this purpose.

Engagement – Not very. UStream isn’t an interactive (social) service.

Cost – Varies from free to enterprise level.

Spreecast

Spreecast is a four-year-old company whose platform allows for multiple users to contribute to the broadcast and has unique tools for watchers to comment and even to tailor the broadcast to their suiting.

Users can “participate live by asking or voting on questions, text chatting and joining on camera. Participants can also submit photos, videos and slide decks to be shared with the audience.” Spreecast operates on a freemium model, where free accounts are ad-supported and highly restricted.

I became aware of Spreecast due to ESPN’s frequent use of the platform to do extended content. Here’s an example:

Spreecast is the social video platform that connects people.

Check out ESPN NFL Nation TV – Episode 69 on Spreecast.

Maybe it’s a stretch to include Spreecast in the conversation, although they’re doing some very innovative live streaming in the enterprise space.

Here’s how Spreecast compares to the other platforms:

Organic Distribution – N/A

Extended Distribution – Live streams can be embedded on other web properties starting with the second-tier paid plan.

Persistence – Videos are archieved as a part of the service, with the exception of free accounts which require payment if viewed more than three days after broadcast.

Fidelity – As high as your computer equipment and Internet speed allow.

Mobile – All broadcasters must join from a desktop browser. There is a mobile app, but it is only for audience viewing and interacting with broadcasts.

Engagement – Engagement is broad and very easy with Spreecast.

Cost – Free ad-supported to enterprise-priced.

The others

The most anticipated “next thing” on the horizon for live streaming is Facebook Live Mentions. A group of celebrities currently have access to the feature, and it is expected that this will roll out to all users sometime in the near future.

There are also a bevy of second-tier live-streaming apps, a non-exhaustive list of which includes:
Mirrative
YouNow
Flinch
Hang w/

Conclusion

“We’ve seen a lot of different live-streaming platforms, and most of them have not survived or gone anywhere,” – Dan Rayburn, analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

That said, there are some compelling features that make live-streaming apps not named Periscope or Meerkat viable tools for PR practitioners and marketers. Periscope may have 10 million users, but if you’re broadcasting to your organic audience, an embeddable platform such as Hangouts On-Air or Meerkat might be better suited for your purpose.

You may want to have a very customizable or interactive live stream, in which case a tool like Spreecast might be appropriate. Or you might have the appropriate equipment to do a high-definition live-stream with a platform like UStream.

Or you might just want the prestige of broadcasting on Periscope (and there’s nothing wrong with that). In any event, hopefully this gives you an idea about what the live-streaming space is about and how you can leverage it as a PR or marketing tactic.

Live Streaming for PR

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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