The big fuss over the free iPhone video-streaming service Meerkat radiated from the yearly South by Southwest (SXSW) music-film-tech festival in Austin as the event sped toward closing this weekend.
Meerkat, backed by DreamIt Ventures of Philadelphia, "dominates" SXSW, said online news source Mashable. It's "the next Snapchat," said Bloomberg News. It's "turning live video into a big deal again," said the tech website TheVerge.com. Everyone in Austin is "Meerkatting," added USA Today.
Politico dubbed the 2016 presidential race the "Meerkat election," as would-be candidates such as Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) flashed their moves directly to masses of fans and followers.
Danny Cabrera, co-founder of South Philly live-cell 3D-printer-maker BioBots, can't use Meerkat on his own phone - it runs Android - so he borrowed investor Steve Welch's iPhone to Meerkat Welch wakeboarding in Austin. "It is pretty fun to see your friends watching your stream," Cabrera said. "The question is, can they continue getting traction, and going viral?"
Welch wants that. The Malvern resident, Mitos Technologies founder, and ex-U.S. Senate candidate is a very early Meerkat adopter. He has been using a version since 2013 "to watch my kids' soccer games when I am traveling, live, in high definition," he said. He got in as an investor; he's a cofounder of DreamIt Ventures, the seven-year-old University City firm that picks start-up company founders who are "building platforms people can use to change the world."
DreamIt runs capitalist-meets-entrepreneur programs in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other towns. It has so far chosen 178 companies (including Meerkat and BioBots) for early investments of up to $275,000, plus legal and management aid, in exchange for partial ownership.
Welch says the DreamIt crew met Ben Rubin and other Meerkat founders - their firm is called Life On Air Inc. - visiting a tech club in Israel. A lot of developers have worked on live smartphone video social distribution; Meerkat "cracked the code," Welch says. DreamIt helped Rubin move his office to San Francisco. With the publicity of the last two weeks, Welch expects Meerkat and rivals like Twitter's Periscope will attract investors and customers and "continue to innovate at a very rapid rate."
When anyone can produce and distribute smartphone video, what does that do to TV networks and pay video providers and advertisers? "It's good buzz, but it's incremental," says Jeff Dittus, chairman of Audience Partners, a 62-person electronic ad platform with offices in Fort Washington and Washington that specializes in targeting voters for political campaigns.
"The big thing coming down the road is four-screen accessibility," the art of pumping messages, not just through TV, but also through "computers, mobile phones, tablets, and gaming systems," Dittus said.
Video live-streaming services like Meerkat may prove well-suited for reaching people in their 20s raised on smartphones, he added.
But reaching the mass of Americans now means surrounding them on all screens.