Hollywood Jumping on Meerkat Bandwagon After App Dazzles at SXSW
The industry sees big opportunities for the streaming video service as everyone from Jimmy Fallon to Al Roker experiments with "the next step in sharing."
A version of this story first appeared in the April 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Meerkat might have been the app of the moment at South by Southwest, and it's already gaining traction in Hollywood.
The app, which allows anyone with a Twitter account to live-stream video with the click of a button, launched in late February and had amassed 120,000 users heading into SXSW. During the days since the annual tech, film and music festival in Austin, that number has skyrocketed as Meerkat has been used by everyone from Jimmy Fallon to Snoop Dogg to Ashton Kutcher.
"The appeal is intimacy," says Mark Suster, managing partner at investment firm Upfront Ventures. "We saw Al Roker sitting in his home. People love that."
Entertainment industry investors have flocked to the app, too. The company announced March 26 that it has raised an undisclosed amount of funding in a round led by Greylock Partners with participation from Kutcher's Sound Ventures, Jared Leto, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, Universal Music Group, Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video Ventures, WME, CAA Ventures and UTA.
Meerkat — which is one of several live video apps currently available, including Twitter-owned competitor Periscope — was born out of the 10-person San Francisco-based startup Life on Air, which has been working on live-streaming technology since 2013. "We want to change the way people consume content and shift it from consumption to participation with the content," Life on Air CEO Ben Rubin tells THR. "This will introduce a lot of different kinds of use cases where anyone -- a brand or a politician or a teacher -- who is communicating information creates a more honest and direct way to involve the audience in what they're up to."
Meerkat also is poised to shake up the online video space by creating a new way for people to broadcast to their fans, offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse or provide a second-screen companion experience. To wit, Fallon drew more than 4,000 viewers when he broadcast the dress rehearsal of his Tonight Show monologue March 18. CNN's Reliable Sources has used the technology for pre- and postshow videos. And Roker had 330 viewers as he cooked his dinner -- flank steak, brussels sprouts and sauteed mushrooms -- on March 20. "Meerkat is the next step in sharing with family, friends and fans," says Roker. "We are even using this to explore projects and shows we produce with Al Roker Entertainment, and it's a great tool to get closer to the people we serve."
Although the app is in its infancy, it's not hard to envision it becoming a storytelling medium that creates its own class of creative talent as YouTube, Vine and Snapchat have. "Every time a new medium takes the stage, there's a new wave of creators," says angel investor and early Meerkat adopter Paige Craig. "This new class of influencers will have to be good at being in the moment and being able to engage with their audience." The app also has applications in the live entertainment space and could be used to broadcast a concert or sporting event, though Rubin insists that is not the intent. "I don't think it will compete with premium content," he says. "I don't think that somebody will tune in to Meerkat to see a football game because it's a different experience than watching a big, well-executed broadcast with sports anchors narrating."