The sightings started late Thursday night. A man wearing a vibrant yellow T-shirt with a strange mongoose-like creature printed on it was spotted in the wild at Austin’s international airport.
That man was none other than Ben Rubin, the founder and CEO of Meerkat, a live-streaming application that has spread throughout much of the early adopter community since it launched quietly two weeks ago. “I think people are genuinely excited to see the meerkat logo (shirt),” Rubin said in an email to Mashable. “I don’t think it’s because of me.”
Rubin, like many at the airport, is in Texas to talk up his startup at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. Even before he stepped off the plane, though, Meerkat had clearly arrived at the event. Journalists, public relations professionals and tech employees were using the app to broadcast long lines, meetings and talks from the event. Even Al Roker got in on the Meerkating.
The frenzy around the application (and anyone wearing a T-shirt with its logo) is more than a little reminiscent of the attention that Twitter famously received at SXSW back in 2007. It’s been a few years since the tech event has really fueled a startup’s momentum in that way. Yet, when the renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher asked her million-plus Twitter followers what the “big trend” was at this year’s event, the most common response was “Meerkat.”
“We’re hoping that SXSW will help to galvanize the community we already have, which is a very tech-focused community at this point,” says Ryan Cooley, the community director for Meerkat.
Meerkat surged from 500 users on its first day to more than 20,000 users a week later, thanks to its relatively effortless integration with Twitter and a push from the influential online community Product Hunt, which led to dozens of media mentions. It’s now growing 60% day-over-day on average, according to Cooley, with the number of watched video streams topping 40,000 on Thursday.
While Meerkat may be the most name-dropped of the bunch, the live-video sharing space is getting more crowded by the day, with names like Teleparty and Stre.am joining the fray. Stre.am, a video streaming service that launched this week and works with Twitter, Facebook and SMS, is also a finalist for the Interactive Innovation Award at SXSW. Each of these apps benefit from the rise of 4G and a shift in focus to video across social networks.
“I could have never predicted something like Meerkat would get that much attention just a couple weeks before SXSW,” says Eric Bowman, Stre.am’s CEO. “Lucky timing.”
Then again, all of these services might actually have lousy timing.
On Friday afternoon, Twitter finally confirmed its acquisition of Periscope, a video streaming application currently in beta. Rumors of the deal had been floating around since the earliest days of Meerkat’s existence, though the acquisition is said to have closed in January.
Details are scarce about the app, but according to one report, Periscope will let Twitter users view and interact with live broadcasts as well as to watch replays of videos they may have missed in real-time.
Like Meerkat’s shining moment at SXSW, Twitter’s acquisition of Periscope may also give some tech industry watchers deja vu. A few years ago, there was a fast-growing pool of mobile video sharing applications, for short recorded videos rather than live streaming. Then in early 2013, Twitter bought Vine, a video sharing application that had yet to launch to the public. Five months later, Facebook added video sharing to Instagram. And with that, many of startups in the space dropped off.
Meerkat has proven the potential popularity for live streaming video on a social network, but if Facebook and other social platforms follow Twitter’s footsteps — as often happens — and acquire or build live streaming options of their own, it may leave the new crop of services like Meerkat out in the wild.
“I think you are going to see a ton of live streaming products out there,” Cooley, the community director, says when asked about a shakeout in the space. “Who is going to win that game time will tell.”
For now, Periscope is still in beta and the other live video startups have yet to receive as much press attention, so the Meerkat team can walk the grounds of SXSW like they own the place.