There's a battle shaping up between competing live Twitter video services Meerkat, which has a several-week head start in usage and buzz over Periscope -- the just-released app from Twitter. Both applications allow users (of iPads and iPhones) to stream live video to Twitter users, although Periscope says an Android version is on the way.
At Wednesday's White House daily briefing, I impulsively set out to Meerkast the entire briefing live, and it was a blast. I wasn't the first White House reporter to do this, a distinction that belongs to NBC News' Kasie Hunt, who also created a lot of buzz by Meerkatting an interview with Press Secretary Josh Earnest last week.
Still, I do believe I'm the first non-broadcast journalist to do so, and definitely the first to offer viewers wraparound coverage of the pre-and-post-briefing experience. It just so happens that when my Verizon Galaxy tablet went on the blink, the only replacement available was an iPad Air, or I would never have been within a mile of an Apple device, but with all the buzz about Meerkat, the opportunity was too good to pass up. The app itself is ridiculously simple to use, so with the click of one button, I was on the air.
Since White House briefings are streamed live on WhiteHouse.gov (and many other places), I set out to give my viewers an experience that they wouldn't get anywhere else, first by broadcasting the pre-briefing bustle and Banter™, then by giving them a reporter's-eye-view as I asked my questions, and then by moving around the room to frame Earnest and his interrogators in kinetic, verité fashion. It also allowed me to include Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Shultz (and his reactions to questions) in a lot of the shots, which you don't get on TV.
One of the downsides to Meerkat is that viewers can't replay the stream; it is live only, and once it's over, your Meerkast is gone forever (although you can save the video of your own Meerkat stream to your own device). There's a workaround for that whereby users and viewers use the hashtag "#Katch," which automatically causes the stream to be uploaded to YouTube, but its reliability is spotty.
I didn't #Katch my Meerkast, but I did save it on my phone, and was really looking forward to watching the finished product. Through my iPad, some of the shots were positively electric, particularly an exchange between Press Secretary Josh Earnest and and Fox News' Ed Henry that I framed like a verbal gunfight, with each man at opposite ends of the screen. What I watched on my iPad was exciting and electric (as White House briefings go), and I was completely sold. The instant feedback of the in-app Twitter chat was just the icing on the cake.
Then, I got a look at the footage Meerkat saved to my iPad. First of all, it was all out of order and the audio didn't sync, which could just be a quirk of doing such a lengthy Meerkast. The video, though, was pretty much exactly how my viewers had seen it. Here's a taste:
That's right, despite the fact that I shot the whole thing in landscape (widescreen) mode, the thing only captured in portrait (vertical) mode, and only what was in the middle of the frame.
Please listen to me, people of the Earth: video in portrait mode is the effing worst. When you shoot some piece of video with your phone that goes viral and ends up on TV, and we all have to watch it like we're looking through some partially-opened sheer curtains, everybody hates you. What's horrible about Meerkat is that it doesn't even give viewers the option of holding their screen sideways, or users the option of saving the video in widescreen format.
That brings me to Periscope, the application that Twitter just bought and released Wednesday night. Periscope improves on Meerkat in two significant ways, most importantly by allowing users to have their streams replayed. So far, the streams and the replays are only available within the app, but will soon be shareable on Twitter. Periscope also allows you to shoot in widescreen mode, but not to view that way. If you're watching a Periscope on your phone, you can turn it sideways to view widescreen video, but the onscreen messages will remain oriented vertically, and so will the saved video. But it saves what you actually shot, not the completely useless middle-third of it.
Both apps really need to upgrade to allow widescreen orientation, but for now, Periscope is still leaps and bounds better than Meerkat, and I don't think Meerkat's head start is going to save them. When I tested out Periscope Thursday morning, there was immediate interest in the 20 seconds of MSNBC I was watching in my living room. Once its shareability is fully enabled, it should beat Meerkat's pants off, even if "Periscope" is a stupid-ass name that fails to capitalize on Twitter's brand recognition. Why not Twittercast, or something else that wasn't invented in the 15th century?
Of course, Meerkat still has a chance to retain the upper hand. Regular people don't seem to be that bothered by the vertical video, so if they can add a feature that allows the streams to be replayed, they have a fighting chance. For my White House briefings, though, you'll have to use Periscope, and you'll have to hold your phone sideways.