Twitter killed Meerkat. At least that’s the simple explanation.
Meerkat launched in 2015 as a one-to-many live video streaming service and instantly won millions of users and a ton of positive reviews. It died a year later, removed from the App Store due to lack of interest.
In between Meerkat’s rise and rapid decline Twitter launched its own version of user live streaming, Periscope, and took Meerkat’s audience before it even got settled in. There are always a number of factors that contribute to an app’s demise–some argue it was all bluff to begin with–but the fact that Meerkat needed Twitter to link its users, announce new streams, and spread word of its app made it easy for the messaging giant to cut it off at the source.
The lesson: it’s good to control the means of communication.
The premonition: T-Mobile and Verizon control your internet connection and each has its own video calling app.
So could the big telco carriers control the future of video calling, and the evolution of social media the same way Twitter controlled Meerkat?
Video Calling with T-Mobile and Verizon
Both Verizon and T-Mobile have been in the video calling game for a few years now. Verizon launched first in 2014, with T-Mobile following a year later. Both launched as limited services, and a few years down the road little has changed.
It is easy to use either service, they launch directly from your phone’s caller by simply selecting the video camera icon instead of the usual telephone handset symbol. Both offer HD quality calling, but the features run out shortly thereafter.
Neither provider allows group video calling, nor can either be used to call people on other carriers or on other video calling apps, such as Skype. T-Mobile has made a point of saying its video calls will one day be able to reach customers on other plans, but for now it’s not even enough to be a T-Mobile fan, you also have to be using a Samsung Galaxy smartphone.
Given the size of these companies there’s huge potential for growth in the popularity of video calling should these sleeping giants ever wake and get serious about the technology.
Millennials Love Video Calling
Video calling is a younger person’s pastime.
More than 60% of Americans aged 18 to 29 have used their smartphone to make or receive a video call. That figure steadily declines with age as you move through the demographics. The 30 to 49 age bracket has a healthy experience of video calling (42%), but the closer American’s get to retirement age the less likely they are to have even tried a face-to-face call.
Those demographics are significant because the Millennial generation is about to become the biggest contributor to the U.S. consumer economy. They’re accustomed to fluid digital solutions that link everybody everywhere, and don’t discriminate between devices, plans, and providers.
While Verizon and T-Mobile stand as two of the largest three mobile carriers in the U.S. today–they combine for more than 200 million subscribers–their video calling tech isn’t impressing anyone, especially as it’s limited to one-on-one calling. Facetime and Google’s aptly named Duo may persist as strict two-person callers, but they look bare compared to the new video group chat providers.
If the mobile carriers could just branch out a little they could seriously challenge the social media apps for video calling supremacy among Millennials.
Video Calling Built into Your Phone
Meerkat failed in part because its users often traveled through Twitter in order to get to the service. Once Twitter developed a similar, improved service there was no need to take the extra step. Mobile carriers could pull the same trick with video calling.
If Verizon and T-Mobile expand their video calling feature to include group call, and perhaps even real-time group messaging, there’d be a reduced need to download extra apps like Skype or more social platforms like WhatsApp.
There’s no need to venture into the darker shades of the debate on net neutrality to see how these carriers have an advantage in the video calling sphere. All they need to do is make it easier for people to make a call. If the service is already active when you turn on your phone for the first time–and surely these services will migrate to other smartphone brands eventually–there’s no need for a download or to make sure your friends are on the right app.
Whether existing social media apps have enough features, such as private chat rooms and sheer scale of users, to fight off any intrusion from carriers remains to be seen. However, if video calling becomes more prevalent as a standalone feature, and the rise of the Millennials makes that more likely, Verizon and T-Mobile could easily position themselves as the hassle-free, dedicated service of choice.