Until this year most social media was all about presenting a carefully edited portion of your life for semi-public consumption. Live streaming, on the other hand, is live, unedited, unpredictable raw footage, and no matter how well you plan it is more likely to appear more “true” and personal. This “insider” view provided by live streaming is its major social media edge.
What is live streaming and why was it big in 2015?
- Live streaming media is video of events transmitted over the Internet in real time as the events happen. It’s different from streaming on-demand because it is not prerecorded, but transmits instantly as it is created.
- Meerkat and Periscope are the two most prominent live video streaming services right now. Users of both platforms can post and stream live via social media. Facebook has recently begun testing their version of live streaming but it has yet to challenge the other two. Similarly, YouTube is offering YouNow, a live streaming option, that is catching on but not yet seriously challenging Meerkat or Periscope.
Several factors impact the technical quality of live streaming media:
- The technology you use to create content to be streamed affects quality; sometimes with inferior equipment you may find yourself needing to lower your resolution or use a smaller window size, both of which detract from quality. If you shoot only in HD you may exclude some viewers, however, who don’t have the capacity to watch it live.
- Ethernet connections are important to live streaming to maintain quality. You should also position yourself physically close to the wifi source for best results.
- How much bandwidth the live streaming site you use has is important; paid streams usually get more bandwidth because paying streamers are pickier about quality, and because a site that charges users tracks how many people are watching and distributes bandwidth accordingly.
Live streaming was big in 2015 for several reasons:
- Personal touch. Viewers of this kind of content feel it is more genuine and gives them an “insider” view of the streamer.
- Streaming is winning. Live streaming in general is exploding in popularity alongside the larger digital video market; in 2015 almost two-thirds of Americans streamed media online regularly.
- Social media continues to thrive. Social media use in general continues to rise and especially for younger age groups it is nearly ubiquitous.
Live streaming has also gained in popularity because businesses, brands and celebrities can use it for marketing purposes:
- Event marketing and announcements. Event marketing gets a boost with live streaming which makes it possible to stream live from business events, industry events, or at press conferences. Brands can turn the release of a new product into an event by scheduling the live streamed announcement, and this kind of candid live streaming video can not only disseminate the new information but can also showcase your team behind-the-scenes to engage and connect with customers.
- Trending topic live streams. Brands can already find out what news is trending that may impact their product; take this one step further and live stream your brand’s take on trending stories and issues that affect your customers. You can add value and color commentary even more easily with live streaming.
- Product demos. If an amazing new product is easier to admire when seen in action, live streaming a product demo or customer reactions to a demo is a great option.
- Customer research and social engagement. Companies can monitor live streaming that refers to their product, service or brand. This augments customer research efforts and provides new opportunities to engage.
What are the top sites for live streaming
Periscope (owned by Twitter) and Meerkat are the big two of live streaming right now, although Facebook and YouTube have also introduced this function for users. The basic similarities between Periscope and Meerkat are obvious:
- You can live stream your video content on both. Neither limits your time.
- Quality and bandwidth are as yet very similar. However, many users claim that overall the video quality is better on Periscope.
- Less obvious but still relevant: neither offers an API option so users must manage their own content via a mobile device.
Here are the key differences between Periscope and Meerkat:
- Saved video. Periscope allows you to save and play back video for 24 hours after the live cast. Meerkat videos are not saved at all, so they can’t be repurposed. This may be a good thing if somehow your live stream goes badly, but overall it means each live cast has significantly less time to get you where you want it to. This also means Meerkat streams aren’t shareable in a traditional social media sense and Periscope is more of a source for content for browsing users.
- Meerkat does allow you to schedule your live streaming broadcast in advance and promote it.
- In Periscope users can tap the screen when they like what’s happening, and they can do this as many times as they like. When they do, the streamer sees hearts on their screen, providing a real time metric for the broadcaster. Meerkat viewers can only like a broadcast once.
- User interface. This is mostly a matter of taste, but Periscope shows you a mostly empty screen as you live stream so there isn’t as much distraction and it’s easy to use. Meerkat has more elements on the screen, which may confuse less adept users but may also appeal to serious social media multitaskers.
Social media integration
Live streaming appeals to social media consumers; therefore, social media integration is a big deal. Twitter, already in part a real time experience that draws live Tweeting during events like political debates and awards shows, is a critical location for live streamers.
Periscope, owned by Twitter, boasts great integration with the platform. It provides social graph access so Periscope streamers can follow the brands and influencers they have connected with on Twitter; it denies this access to Meerkat users.
Meerkat counters this with Twitter push notifications to try and maximize the number of viewers they get through Twitter.
On the details: other differences between Periscope and Meerkat
Chatting. Meerkat lets you chat during your live stream. Any chats post automatically to Twitter.
Real time metrics. Meerkat shows the avatars of people who are watching your video at the top of the video screen. This makes it easy to find and connect with relevant viewers. In Periscope you can’t see who is watching without opening a text box that partially hides the view.
Commenting. Meerkat users can easily comment on live streaming broadcasts and find those comments later. This is tougher to do on Periscope because as newer comments post older comments disappear.
Post mortem metrics. Periscope gives users metrics after the broadcast is over, including average viewing time, number of viewers, and retention.
Blocking. Periscope offers a blocking feature, Meerkat does not.
Content discovery in Periscope and Meerkat
Content discovery, or the ability to seek out live stream broadcasts of interest, is what drives your number of viewers up and boosts engagement. Both Periscope and Meerkat allow for content discovery in two main ways:
- You can promote live stream broadcasts specifically based on event-related hashtags. You can also simply use the #Periscope and/or #Meerkat tags so that Twitter users can find the Tweets with your broadcast link easily.
- Greatest hits. Meerkat uses a Leaderboard and Periscope uses a Most Loved section. In all the Meerkat Leaderboard is more robust, providing you with some metrics and a sense of how to climb it. How Leaderboard status is calculated is unknown, but this calculation almost certainly refers to audience engagement, broadcast audience sizes, number of followers, and frequency of broadcasts. The Most Loved section lets users see how many hearts they picked up broadcasting but only once they scroll past their followed Twitter users to check. Periscope also provides a Global display of recent broadcasts on a world map.
How to select a live streaming site
This all begs the question: which of these sites should your business use? (The importance of live streaming is not really in question, and it seems safe to say this is a new form of social interaction that is here to stay.)
- On the numbers. Numbers matter, because as a brand you want to go where more people are. As of August Periscope announced it had 10 million active iOS and Android users. Meerkat user numbers have not been released as recently but at the end of March it reportedly had more than 300,000 users. Wefi, an analytics firm that tracks US Android users indicates that 1 percent of all Android users have installed Periscope while about .07 percent have installed Meerkat. As of April, Periscope was ranked at 165 among all US apps (22 among social apps), while Meerkat ranked at 1,142 among all US apps (120 among social apps).
- Time spent streaming. In August Periscope founder Kayvon Beykpour said that iOS and Android Periscope users watch 40 live streams (not including repeats) daily on average. Beykpour argues that this is a better metric for understanding how much people use and engage with Periscope. Similar data about Meerkat is unavailable.
- Playback ability. The video playback feature from Periscope is useful to brands because it lets you promote the live stream after the fact for 24 hours, getting shares and generating engagement.
As a whole, Periscope offers more features for brand users—at least for now.
Live streaming sites right now
Although Periscope and Meerkat are definitely topping this market right now, they’re not the only live streaming site options. Here is a list of what’s out there now (minus Meerkat and Periscope).
Blab – Blab works a lot like Google Hangouts on Air except for the appearance of your screen. You can see everyone who is participating on your screen in a grid. One advantage to Blab is that you can use the website and app to browse and watch streams—Periscope and Meerkat are only browsable using external sites. Finally, you can easily use Twitter to show followers when you’re blabbing.
DailyMotion – This YouTube rival enjoys more than 128 million unique visitors each month, and although much of its content isn’t live, you can use it to live stream. DailyMotion supports HD video and HLS for iOS. It can also be used by both mobile and desktop users. On the downside only those with official DM accounts can live stream, and the platform isn’t always that easy for people with less experience.
Facebook Video – Why use Facebook for live streaming? Several reasons. First, Facebook is still the juggernaut of social media on the numbers. There are just more people watching on Facebook, so you have a better shot at reaching more people streaming there. Also, people enjoy watching videos that are part of their home feed without having to click away (to YouTube, for example). Finally, Facebook’s edgerank prioritizes native videos.
Katch.me – This site is a good option if you’re too busy to drop things to watch live streams at any time because it allows you to watch broadcasts whenever you want to. It’s also compatible with Meerkat and Periscope, so users can save their individual broadcasts to Katch.me and tag them with #katch so they can easily be found. They can also use Katch.me to automatically upload all of their videos.
Ustream – This site has been allowing users to stream live since 2007, and now the Ustream community boasts more than 50 million unique monthly viewers. Ustream’s best points include it’s useful real time analytics. Unfortunately, though, it lacks searchability.
Vimeo – The capacity for live streaming has been present on Vimeo for more than three years, so why hasn’t it taken off like Meerkat and Periscope? There are several reasons for this. First, to get any commercial content on Vimeo you must pay for a professional account; since the alternatives are mostly free, this hasn’t been attractive to business users. Second, Vimeo has fairly rigorous content restrictions. Overall, Vimeo has been used by artists, writers, and groups like churches the most.
YouNow – This live streaming site is exceptionally interactive, making it a great place for artists or musicians to teach live for tips. As you broadcast live on YouNow, you can see a public stream of live comments right next to your live stream. Those watchers who pay for virtual currency (called “bars”) or stickers get seen the most. This lets you “reward” supportive viewers in real time by mentioning them, thanking them, or responding to requests.
YouTube Live – This branch of YouTube is in the fledgling stage, but YouTube is a natural place for live streaming services with billions of existing users so expect this option to grow rapidly. HD capabilities are great here and live-streaming broadcasts automatically record onto YouTube, making this a more permanent option than many other sites. On the other hand, YouTube is known for its strict terms of service and this is also true for its live streaming services.
How to get started on your own
It is easy to start live streaming on your own:
- Install the app. First you must install the app you want to use. Both are free to download.
- Sign up. Both apps ask you to sign in, and both offer the option to sign in with Twitter. Meerkat also offers the option of signing in with Facebook. Signing in with Twitter makes sharing (in the case of Periscope) and engaging (for both apps) easier. However, remember that if you sign into Meerkat with Twitter, it will post a link to every live stream automatically, and comments will also post on your Twitter timeline. This means any of this, including video and sound, can be seen by anyone with the link.
- Create a profile. If you sign into Periscope with Twitter it will pull your name, bio, Twitter handle and picture for your profile. If you sign into Periscope with your phone number you complete these steps manually. If you sign into Meerkat with Facebook it automatically imports your basic info and creates a profile, just like Periscope does through Twitter.
- Follow people. Periscope prompts Twitter sign in users on this most easily.
- Manage your settings. Periscope lets you choose whether or not you want notifications about new followers; it also allows you to elect to autosave your broadcasts. Meerkat settings are not complicated and there are basically no choices to make in this area.
- Live stream. If you’re using Meerkat, you just title your broadcast and tap “stream.” All of your Twitter followers will get an alert, as will all other Meerkat users. If you’re using Periscope it is similarly easy, but also offers you the ability to stream only to select viewers.
- You can comment easily in Meerkat, by tapping the bubble towards the bottom left of the screen, or by replying to the original Meerkat Tweet. You are identified with your handle when you comment. You can also choose to “restream” to your followers, but this is live; it still does not save the broadcast. Periscope works similarly; you tap “say something” at the bottom of the screen and are identified as you logged in.
- Schedule ahead. You can schedule on Meerkat using the “schedule” option; you can include a photo for this to attract more viewers. Your notice is sent to followers who can “follow” the broadcast.
Social live streaming apps are on the rise. Like anything else, brands that learn about and adopt the new technology earlier carve out more significant niches in these channels; they also shape the entire landscape of the channel. Expect to see new features from both Periscope and Meerkat, and watch newcomers with clout such as Facebook and YouTube.