In March 2015, a new app called Meerkat became the star of the show at the annual SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, and put live streaming on the map.
Before long, brands and celebrities like Madonna were jumping on the bandwagon. But Meerkat also caught the attention of major companies, including Twitter, which went on to launch Periscope, and Facebook, which created Facebook Live.
Less than two years later, Meerkat is no longer. Last week, the company behind it, Life On Air, pulled the Meerkat app from the App Store, as it focuses on its newest app, Houseparty, which as the name hints offers multi-person video chat.
Ben Rubin, Life on Air’s co-founder, told TechCrunch that his company actually made the decision to pivot six months after Meerkat launched. According to Rubin, “it was actually six months after we launched that we made the decision to change direction. The category of broadcast (one-to-many) wasn’t breaking as a daily habit…it’s too far away from the everyday user.”
The harsh realities of competition
While Rubin suggests that one-to-many live streaming is “too far away from the everyday user,” Facebook Live and Twitter’s live streaming efforts suggest otherwise. Live streaming in its various forms is a mainstream phenomenon, and not two years after it started to become one, the big names in social seem to have cornered the market.
Fortunately for Life on Air, it was able to pivot, and its new app, Houseparty, is reportedly closing in on one million users. But if multi-person live chat catches on, what’s to stop Facebook, Twitter and other big social apps from adding multi-person live chat to their services? The answer: probably nothing, which means that Life on Air could eventually find itself in the same place with Houseparty that it did with Meerkat.
The nature of social’s competitive landscape would seem to make it increasingly unlikely that “the next big thing” will be owned by a startup. Yes, an independent app like Meerkat can break through, but if the breakthrough is meaningful enough to have mainstream potential, companies like Facebook are likely to jump on it, making it very difficult if not all but impossible for the Life on Air’s of the world to become the next Facebooks of the world.
If there’s a lesson for brands in Meerkat’s short life, it’s that they should pay attention to emerging trends, but remember that even when those emerging trends are sparked by startup, the big boys will almost certainly follow and take over the market.
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