By Greta Kaul
San Francisco Chronicle.
If a person eats breakfast, live from their smartphone, and all of their Twitter followers are watching, does that make the video interesting?
Probably not, says Justin Kan, a tech entrepreneur who livestreamed his life — from eating to sleeping and going on dates — for six months in 2007.
Kan’s experiment, called Justin.tv, morphed into a platform anybody could use to broadcast their lives before it shut down last year.
But streaming is certainly not dead.
Thursday brought announcements from two smartphone apps that allow users to stream video from their phone and send it to their followers on Twitter.
Meerkat, the livestream app that gained popularity at South by Southwest Interactive, a festival in Austin, Texas, this month, said it had raised $14 million in venture capital funding in a round led by Greylock Partners.
And Twitter released Periscope, a direct competitor to Meerkat with an added feature: Unlike Meerkat videos, which can only be viewed live, Periscope lets users save videos to watch later.
Though Justin.tv wound up being not so interesting much of the time, Kan hasn’t given up on livestreaming. In 2011, he spun off Twitch, which hosts streams of video games (Amazon purchased Twitch for $970 million last year). Now a partner at startup accelerator Y Combinator, Kan chatted with The Chronicle about what Meerkat and Periscope will need to be successful. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: How come Justin.tv never really took off?
A: It resonated with people just because it was novel, but at the end of the day, I don’t think we were interesting enough to sustain an audience (except the time Kan’s apartment was raided by San Francisco police), so eventually we became a platform for anybody to stream their lives over the Web.
Q: Did you learn anything about streaming from that experience?
A: It was fun, but it was very exhausting to do it 24/7.
There have been all these different platforms where people stream live: Various iPhone apps do this, but none of them took off that much. Most people would go live and you would get bored after, like, a minute.
Q: This week has brought a lot of news about streaming, with Meerkat and Periscope announcements. Do you think they’re any different?
A: The thing that Meerkat and Periscope have done a little bit differently is allow celebrities to use them, and then tie into a platform that immediately pushes it out (to their fans) on Twitter.
Q: Meerkat has gained a lot of traction in the last month. Were you, in a sense, ahead of your time with Justin.tv?
A: I think streaming works a lot better from an app. It wasn’t exactly the same formulation, the way our product worked, as what Meerkat and Periscope are doing. Maybe we were ahead of our time, but we also found something that worked and turned the company into Twitch. For gamers, I think it’s very easy for people to produce content that’s pretty engaging. … You’ll see these kids streaming with 10,000 or 20,000 viewers. They can basically produce engaging content, playing the game and talking for like six hours a day. I think people have called Twitch a niche for a long time but it’s not, gaming is bigger than Hollywood.
Q: Are there still technological obstacles for streaming — like the quality of the video?
A: I actually don’t think the streaming quality matters that much. The thing that they need to figure out is retention: What’s going to get people to come back and broadcast over and over again? At least the popular people.
That’s what they’re doing right that we didn’t do very well. We tried to be more many-to-many. … I actually think (this concept) works better one-to-many, with people who already have followings, like celebrities, streaming to many people. Some celebrities tried streaming once on Justin.tv, but they didn’t come back and do it over and over again.
Q: Have you tried Meerkat or Periscope yourself?
A: I tried Meerkat. Persicope, I haven’t tried yet.
Q: Do you think these streaming apps will be just another fad?
A: I’m mostly rooting for these guys and hoping they can figure something out. If you look at things that are popular apps, it doesn’t mean it’s going to stick around. You’ve seen a lot of social apps that people like to do for a while, like checking into locations for example. I don’t know. At the same time, there’s things like Snapchat that really work. It’s really hard to tell with social, it’s all about retention.