Views

What are the implications of Meerkat?

Meerkat, the darling of this year’s SXSW, already claims more than 100,000 users, including Red Bull, Starbucks, the Miami Dolphins, Jimmy Fallon and Madonna.

Bridging the gap between real-time creators and live audiences, apps like Meerkat allow users to instantly stream live video to Twitter followers, discover trending users and events around the world, and create live conversations.

Allowing a very intimate (and instant) glimpse into someone else’s life or a chance for direct conversation—even with someone famous—Meerkat is pioneering what it calls “spontaneous togetherness.”

Though it’s growing about 30 percent daily, it’s not the only app in the live-streaming video race. But whichever one wins out—Meerkat or Twitter’s latest acquisition, Periscope—one thing is certain: disruptive video platforms are here to stay.

While it all sounds relatively straightforward initially, the implications of this new service are actually huge. The first issue that comes to mind is privacy—how to protect it and how our expectations around it will change when anyone can walk down the street and live stream everything they see onto the internet? On a similar note, how can we protect intellectual property when talks, live events, or concerts can be streamed by anyone with a phone—without consent?

Then, there’s the issue of cost. Anyone who does not have an “unlimited” data plan is going to be paying a pretty penny to stream regularly—unless they’re streaming from a place with free WiFi.

Bandwidth is another challenge. All these live video streams will create additional pressures on the internet’s infrastructure, especially in cases in which download speed is faster than upload speed. The streaming out of events could create a much larger requirement for upload speeds.

The bandwidth point, of course, also feeds into the “digital divide” issue. Users in regions with good connectivity will be able to both produce and consume live streams—and users who live in regions where bandwidth is more limited (i.e., the majority of the world’s population) will be left out. Ditto for those who can’t afford an iPhone, since apps like Meerkat and Periscope are currently only available on Apple’s iOS platform. Given the bandwidth ramifications, partnerships between platforms and telecoms are the obvious way forward to ensure content is supported and accessible to more people.

However long it takes, like Internet access itself, live streaming will eventually be ubiquitous—and it will change the way we live and perceive the world. With the new services companies like Meerkat are bringing us, there will inevitably be abuses. But making live streaming simple and easy enough will also bring incredible new opportunities—hence all the buzz at SXSW.

From citizen journalism to creating fresh new marketing opportunities for brands—the ability for anyone, anywhere to broadcast anything live to the world is going to change everything.

Contributors