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At the Intersection of Mobile and Video

I want to say one word to you. Just one word: Mobile.


In the iconic 1967 film “The Graduate,” Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) famously advises Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) to pursue a career in “plastics.” If the movie were set in the present day, I imagine the exchange would go like this:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Mobile.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in mobile.

In the 1960s, plastics “met” packaging, and it transformed the entire industry. Today’s transformative powerhouse is mobile technology. Mobile is driving change in all industries it touches, including communications, commerce, gaming and, of course, online video. Here are some of the trends propelling mobile online video, the challenges and opportunities the convergence will create for the industry, and how viewers will benefit:

Mobile mania

To understand the profound impact mobile will continue to have on online video, we have to acknowledge the ubiquity of mobile devices. The form factor has become so prevalent that it’s no longer simply a platform — like plastics, it’s a cultural shift. To say “everyone has a mobile device” isn’t an exaggeration — Cisco predicts there will be 1.4 mobile devices per capita by 2018.

This phenomenon hasn’t escaped notice in the entertainment industry. Dozens of companies are making a move to mobile, hoping to leverage, among other benefits, the rich personalization opportunities inherent in the one screen/one viewer experience. At CES 2014, entertainment heavyweights including NBCU, WWE, Time Warner, Dish and Cox all announced new mobile strategies. And with research showing that mobile and tablet video viewing has more than doubled in the past year, industry players are bound to see the writing on the wall: There’s a great future in mobile, so get in the game now or be left behind.

The long and the short of it

Getting — and staying — in the game requires industry players to be nimble and knowledgeable. Factors around mobile video, such as viewing habits, device capabilities and supporting technologies, are changing all the time. For example, the assumption that mobile viewing is focused on short content is passé. During the third quarter of 2013, tablet owners spent more than 25 percent of their viewing time watching videos more than 60 minutes long. Device improvements, including bigger and better screens, as well as faster processors and connectivity, have created the backdrop for mobile viewers to watch longer videos, which in turn creates a new opportunity for content providers to engage audiences.

Content providers can maximize those opportunities by using analytics to be more knowledgeable about viewers’ habits — learning, for instance, what devices viewers are using to watch long-form versus short video, and when are they watching it. These insights benefit providers and audiences alike. Publishers can suggest curated content for viewers based on their programming, time-of-day and day-of-week preferences. More personalized content offerings can help boost viewership, which in turn gives providers the means to better monetize their content.

Keep it quality

Publishers can provide content to mobile viewers that’s perfectly matched to their preferences, but if video delivery is lacking, all bets are off. In fact, poor delivery directly correlates to lost audiences. A recent study found that viewers begin to abandon a video after a two-second delay, and that every additional second of delay costs another six percent of viewers. As it stands now, mobile viewers and broadcasters are frequently stymied by UI, downloading and playback issues caused by mobile device fragmentation. If video publishers are going to keep viewers engaged on mobile devices, they need to create a straightforward, enjoyable user experience, with uniform (or at the very least similar) UIs and applications across devices.

Travel team gets new meaning

Convenience, especially the ability to get information whenever and wherever you want, is at the heart of every mobile experience. That’s why mobile devices are so well suited for delivering live video, particularly sporting events. While sports programming is still under relatively tight ownership (consider the NFL’s control over live games), Adobe reports that one quarter of all sports content is now viewed on mobile devices. Acknowledging that trend, NBCUniversal announced a slew of mobile device-specific apps to watch the Winter Olympics.

Yet despite the growth in live viewing (and the opportunity to witness, in real time, the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat), 20 percent of online video viewers click away within the first 10 seconds of watching. Some of this decline can be attributed to lack of interest, and some to more technical challenges, including signal acquisition, cross-device delivery and content protection.

Publishers are banking on new mobile features and apps to help keep live-sports viewers engaged longer (which, of course, supports opportunities for monetization). For example, content providers are giving audiences the ability to highlight their favorite teams and players, and give thumbs-up or -down to events; that input will help providers create customized feeds for viewers. Viewers can also expect online sports broadcasting to incorporate interactive, real-time data such as multiple cameras, player trackers, fantasy stats and even gambling odds. And sports franchises aren’t the only ones going live; marketers and brands, too, are using livestreamed events as a means to engage customers.

Give me a second (screen)

Increasingly, device usage is driven less by traditional viewing norms (i.e., television for long-form content), and is more circumstantial — often linked to time of day. Analytics show that video viewing on mobile devices peaks on Friday and Saturday nights. Generally, mobile use surges between 8 pm and 10 pm, then drops off sharply. The biggest increase in the percentage of mobile video plays occurs on weekday mornings, between 5 am and 6 am.

Many viewers often use two screens simultaneously, employing mobile devices while watching television. Survey results from Nielsen show that more than half of smartphone and tablet owners surf the Web, visit a social networking site and look up information while watching TV. Using mobile devices as a second screen lets viewers weigh in on social media as, say, drama unfolds on the “American Idol” stage. In addition to using mobile devices for social use, users are turning to mobile apps such as TV Guide Mobile, GetGlue, BuddyTV, Miso and IntoNow. These apps, all designed with increased audience engagement in mind, can help viewers learn more about shows they’re watching, locate new content based on their preferences, and even connect them with others who have similar tastes in programming.

Knowing the peaks and valleys of consumption throughout each day and week — and understanding how people shift from one device to another — can help publishers and advertisers decide where to run certain programming, and when to move ad dollars across platform to help maximize mobile revenue.

In the same vein, publishers can rely on data to better understand the nuances between and around different devices. What percentage of video is watched on television versus a mobile screen? How does social sharing impact viewership? Audiences, too, will benefit from this data as it’s applied to improve the user experience. For instance, data on sharing can be used to integrate better content recommendation into the second-screen experience.

… And plastics said to mobile, “Carry on the tradition.”

There’s no doubt that the intersection of mobile and online video will continue to play a defining role in both industries. Still in the relatively early stages of their development, both technologies hold massive consumer and commercial appeal. Like plastics before them, there’s no telling where mobile and online video will go. After all, who would have imagined printer technology intersecting with plastic-products manufacturing? Well, considering his foresight … maybe Mr. McGuire.

Belsasar Lepe is co-founder & VP, Solutions, Ooyala. Reach him @ooyala.

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