Publishers test the waters with Meerkat

South by Southwest darling Meerkat may turn out to be this year’s Highlight, but 2012’s cautionary tale isn’t preventing publishers from jumping on the bandwagon

The BBC, for example, has already used the live-streaming app to broadcast its recent coverage in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shootings of two police officers earlier this month. It was also able to use the app to get feedback from viewers, who suggested how they wanted the coverage to take shape. BBC reporters say that their use of Meerkat on mobile phones made it easier for them to get closer to the action when they were in Ferguson with professional equipment.

“Meerkat was one of those names that was just in the news,” said BBC video journalist Franz Strasser. “We’re still not entirely convinced this is the best option, but we’re willing in trying out all these different platforms.” He said that over 400 people watched the stream over its three-hour broadcast.

Livestreaming, of course, is nothing new. Companies such as Livestream and Ustream have successfully captured the attention of professional broadcasters for years. But Meerkat, which designed to work exclusively with Twitter, has taken off because its simple interface makes it almost effortless for anyone to start broadcasting. Users say it also owes its popularity to the evanescence of its recordings. Once a user records a stream, it’s impossible for other Meerkat users to watch it afterwards.

Meerkat is unique in that there isn’t a repository of the videos after the stream. (Users can choose to download the video after completion.)

“We’re going to be looking closely at what company offers the most in terms of how we can reuse videos after we record them,” he said.

Technology limitations aside, other publishers are intent on testing the waters. The most successful effort so far came from Mashable, which used Meerkat extensively to the goings-on during South by Southwest. The site not only used the app to broadcast original interviews in real time but also turned to it to give tours of Austin itself. The formula has been a successful one. Mashable is top of Meerkat’s leaderboard, above even television host Jimmy Fallon and Digg founder Kevin Rose, as of time of writing. 

“There’s a lot of work we can do to improve the streams themselves — better lighting and sound would be great — but I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Meerkat team develops the app to enhance both the streamer and viewer experience,” said Jeff Petriello, head of Mashable Collective, which experiments with new content formats.

The bigger concern is Meerkat’s longevity. While the app’s Twitter integration has fueled its user adoption, it also makes Meerkat a target for Twitter, which cut off the apps access to its social graph as SXSW began. Twitter’s stake in the game: Twitter announced earlier this month it acquired Periscope, a competitor to Meerkat. That, however, actually helped Meerkat, at least in the short term. Meerkat’s user numbers jumped 30 percent jump after Twitter cut access.

“The lessons that we learn with Meerkat could be applied to any other similar app,” BBC’s Strasser said. “It doesn’t have to be Meerkat. We’re just thinking about how to present things best to our audience.”