by Nick Iannitti

The fascinating world of live streaming apps

If you’re a parent, consider the moment you first let your child go out and play on his or her own, with friends, without adult supervision. On one hand, it was freeing. By some combination of logic, pheromones, and perhaps sheer fatigue, you’d decided that your presence was simply not necessary to his or her safety – you’d raised a functioning child, and were on the cusp of reaping the rewards: a soon-to-be-productive member of society. Of course, there were anxieties. You knew full well that the world was not a risk-free zone, whether it was a few blocks from your house, at the local park or mall, or in the digital world. The decision, however, was final; children and young adults are not particularly amenable to flip-flopping in their basic rule structure and frankly, you had a good feeling about it. They’re gonna be fine.

How about that live streaming, though? It’s been exactly one sweet year since the major advent of apps like Meerkat and Periscope, live streaming apps that let any denizen of the digital age set up an instant window into their world in real-time. And, oh yes, your teenage kids are using them. Let’s be clear though; this article’s goal is not to outline the safety and privacy risks of the sharing web. We’ll let the good people at the world’s finest parenting blogs and digital literacy organizations discuss the detailed safety concerns of these apps. Our goal today will be to analyze the behaviors, motivations and trends behind the rapid growth of streaming culture.

The Authentic Internet

Think about your first time exploring the video web. Were you searching through Lycos? Or was it Excite? What a different place – the corporate footprint felt so…small, didn’t it?

Let’s go back simply to the early YouTube era. I know, it sounds like eons ago but it’s only been ten years since YouTube became THE de facto video platform online. Those early videos bring up a sense of nostalgia, of carefree-ness, of a meritocracy where there was no clear-cut formula for success – creators tried, failed, and succeeded based on the very merits of their own ideas. Many years into the future we see the heavily produced content that’s found today. Nowhere to be found are the now-mandatory outros: ‘click here to subscribe; click here to share; here to watch more’. The conventions of video sharing were still being discovered. And it was invigorating.

By all means, creators continue to produce amazing and unexpected content for YouTube but gone is much of the feeling that made it an untethered creative proving ground. Here’s where history repeats itself. As we’ve seen youth move from Facebook to Instagram in search of a more authentic and less ‘corporate’ experience (read: fewer adults), we’re also seeing a rapid uptake in apps like Periscope, Snapchat, and the newest kid on the block, Facebook Live.

These apps breathe authenticity and their essence reflects the essence of their creators – which is by nature experimental. Everyone’s stumbling through it together.

Best of all, it's an unfiltered secret playground; one that adults don't and almost can't understand in the same way that teens do. One could argue that apps like snapchat are almost set up in such a way to confuse adults, from a UI perspective. Without the prying eyes of "old people", teens are left to build communities and experiment on their own in real time.

And that’s the fun of it. “Scoping”, as it’s known within the Periscope community, for instance, is still very much burgeoning. Videos stay live for 24 hours once they’re broadcast, so taking a day to see how your idea performs never hurts. Feel like reviewing a movie you’ve just walked out of with your friend? Do it. Want to invite people to watch you cook a recipe, or cook with you? Give it a shot. If people like it, they’ll join, subscribe, and send you little animated heart-shaped endorphin-boosters, if they don’t, your videos go the way of the Dodo in short order. Compared to most of the internet, that’s a relatively regret-free proposition. A day later, and your slate is clean.

And best case scenario? You record a hit and start to build a following and potentially even monetize, especially since your fans will follow you to other platforms.  For a true-to-life example, look no further than 26-year-old Amanda Oleander, an artist from Fort Lauderdale currently living in Los Angeles. One of the first ‘Periscope personalities’, she dedicated herself to her art and illustration until a friend suggested she try the app, on the second day of its existence, no less.  She’s now gone from having a YouTube channel with zero subscriptions, to over half a million followers on Periscope, all from bringing audiences casually into her art-creation process.  Her hangout and painting sessions can last for hours, and a day later, they’re gone from the app, and it’s time to create another one.

amanda periscope

The Ethereal Dream

We're in a time where young people increasingly care about their privacy while still wanting the freedom to share the most intimate details of their lives.

Welcome to the new world of the disappearing web, where people experience things in the moment and there’s no expectation that they’ll have to last forever. Teens are becoming accustomed to disappearing messages and content. Whereas older generations grew up with the adage ‘everything lasts forever on the internet’, well, maybe that legitimately won’t be true in ten more years. Author’s note: yes, the ‘invisible backups’ of such services can and have been hacked, but already services are promoting true ‘backup-less’ infrastructures on these things – you can read more about that here. In short, no backups is a selling point.

The Freedom to Express - Globally

Perhaps the most interesting factor about live streaming apps is their global nature. We’ve long touted the internet as ‘the great uniter’, having the power to bring together communities and share perspectives regardless of geography, but nowhere is that more raw and unfiltered than in the world of streaming.

Look no further than YouNow, the social network ‘you’ve probably never heard of’, as Slate put it in a December feature.  Here, kids are literally becoming famous overnight (I say literally overnight for a reason - teens even stream themselves while sleeping).  The revenue model here? Tipping.  Streamers do anything they want, and if the audience like it, they can throw down some money.  According to Buzzfeed’s interview with founder Adi Sideman:

“It’s basically like an open-mic night where the hat is passed around: Some people will watch for free, some will toss a dollar in, and the house takes a cut at the end of the night. Currently there are no plans to introduce ads.“

In short, teens are paying other teens to spend time with them, send messages, and receive responses in real-time.  It doesn’t get much more earnest than that.

This freedom of unfiltered expression is providing exciting opportunities across cultures too. Snapchat’s ‘Our Story’ feature shares direct feeds from places all over the world, gathered from the Snaps of real users in those cities. What is life like in Palestine or Paris beyond what you read on the news? Snapchat users are there to show you, and it’s often in stark contrast to narratives we see in the media, broadening the perspective of global users on the daily lives of people from Phuket to Prado. Of course, Snapchat gets the final say on what makes the official feed – but these stories are a valuable new tool for the daily realities of humanity across the globe and one that further serves to unify through shared experience.

The Audience is Captive

When news broke of advertisers paying $750K a day for the first round of day-long sponsored Snapchat ads, the industry collectively went ‘huh?!’ But over a year later, brands continue to flock to the platform.

People open up their Periscope and Snapchat apps because they are fully intending to spend time watching some live streams. They want to explore, listen, and interact. As marketers, we know the inherent value of this attention. Not to mention, when Snapchat first launched its sponsored snap platforms, users were still required to physically hold their finger on the screen to view the brand video. For lack of a better description, that’s a direct physical link to your target audience – one who’s specifically chosen to view your brand video before even a second of the ad plays.

On top of that, the move to make brands more transparent, authentic, and ‘human’ has been the siren call to social media for marketers the world over. In this vein, what is more transparent than the CEO of T-mobile, John Legere, sitting calmly in his den, talking directly to customers about everything from quarterly results, to customer service issues? You can’t fake that on practically any other medium.

In a culture that prizes authenticity, Streaming Apps are currently where brands and consumers can go to present the most raw, most human digital version of themselves.  This makes these apps an exciting prospect for both advertisers and fame-seekers- they defy many of the traditional trends and mechanics we’re used to, and perhaps because of that, they’re the hottest place to be right now for youth.