Meerkat, star of last year's SXSW, is ditching live streaming

It's hard out there for a startup, especially when Facebook and Twitter are now offering the exact same thing.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

The darling of last year's South by Southwest festival is giving up live streaming.


What a difference a year makes.

When the live-streaming app Meerkat launched last February, just before the popular tech, music and film festival called South by Southwest (SXSW), it captured the imaginations of Silicon Valley. Suddenly, people could easily use their smartphones to broadcast live video over the Internet.

And it was everywhere. While at the festival last year, I was researching a story by wearing a pair of Google Glass goggles at a bar downtown. One drunk partygoer shoved his iPhone in my face and yelled, "This is the first Google Glass on Meerkat!"

Live streaming, it seemed, was The Future of Video.

It still could be, but Meerkat won't be there. On Friday, the company said it's dropping its focus on live streaming. Instead, CEO Ben Rubin said it will build a "video social network," where "everybody is always live," according to Recode, which first reported the news. If that sounds vague, it's because the company isn't giving up many more details and declined a request to comment further.

The tale of once hot Meerkat highlights the highs and lows of Silicon Valley, which is perpetually trying to build the future of how we live and communicate. Billions of users and a potential fortune await anyone who can figure it out. Facebook bought the text message replacement app WhatsApp for $19 billion, after all.

Meerkat's was a case of David versus Goliath from the very beginning. After garnering lots of buzz as SXSW was getting underway last year, Twitter cut Meerkat's access to its "social graph," effectively making it harder for users to find friends on Meerkat's service, or learn when they're live streaming.

Meanwhile, Twitter revealed its own plans with Periscope, a Meerkat competitor.

Facebook too has jumped into live streaming. The world's largest social network, used by more than 1 billion people using day, launched Facebook Live in August. Now, the company is doubling down on it: earlier this week, the social network said it made tweaks to ensure live videos are near the top of people's news feeds.

Even Rubin can see the writing is on the wall and admitted Meerkat could not rival Facebook and Twitter's audience and viewership. "As long as we are competing on those with Twitter/Periscope and Facebook Live, we don't think the current Meerkat product is set up to win," Rubin wrote in a letter to investors announcing the shift. "We were not able to grow as quickly alongside as we had planned."

Even though Rubin is mum about the company's plans, he dropped a few hints. The company began building its whatever-it-is in October and it will focus on interactions between people who know each other, instead of broadcasting to the masses.