Mobile video continues to grow in popularity and adoption -- but not the subscription model for "mobile TV." In terms of consumer-pays models, one could imagine that movie rental services might have a future on mobile devices. In addition, companies can potentially extend their offerings to mobile (where consumers might be willing to pay a small additional monthly fee for access to the service), although the SlingMedia mobile apps enable consumers to watch their home TV on mobile devices.
What I'm wondering is whether the rumored Hulu iPhone app may effectively be the penultimate nail in the coffiin of paid mobile TV services such as MediaFLO TV, VCast and others.
There are now a range of free, mobile video sites and offerings such as CBS's TV.com, YouTube, Joost, Truveo and a couple of others. The subscription services had an uphill battle to begin with, given that we're in a recession and users don't want to pay additional fees for a generally medicore experience on their mobile handsets.
The proliferation of free video sites will make it that much harder to get subscribers to pay anything for access to mobile video content. Sports and adult content are the possible exceptions.
More TV networks and local stations will also be airing free video. Last week NBC reported:
NBC.com's mobile website served 2.4 million video streams in Q1 2009. That is more than the total number of streams served in all of 2008. And Q1 2009 was the mobile site's highest quarter yet, seeing 24 million page views, a 64 per cent increase over Q4 2008.
While a subscriber-pays model can co-exist with ad-supported mobile video in the context of full-length movies and several other kinds of programming, as it does on cable TV, the market will be dominated by ad-supported offerings -- especially as TV producers and networks try and sell their advertisers reach into mobile as part of their overall proposition.
The premium mobile TV offerings that require a distinct subscription will likely turn into marginal or highly verticalized or niche offerings -- unless they become part of an upsell to "all you can eat" bundle that includes other incentives.
SlingMedia's mobile player is available for almost all the smartphone platforms, including the iPhone. It's just not out as an iPhone app -- yet. That should change very soon. The company says the app is under review by Apple.
Owners of iPhones watch quite a bit more video than do other mobile phone users, and the SlingPlayer should be an enormous hit on the device. If US cable companies were smart they would all emulate this and make their content available via apps on smartphones.
Indeed I would think that SlingMedia is an acquisition target by one of them (or perhaps Dish Network).
There's lots of consumer interest in video and TV content on mobile devices; however, pricing remains the challenge and obstacle to adoption. Of course the beauty of the SlingPlayer is that you pay for the device itself (maybe the app too) and there are no additional subscription fees associated with usage. You also watch the content on your home TV not some limited or random selection of someone else's picks.
Mobile TV as a separate subscription is all but dead, as people will be able to get more and more video content on mobile devices for a tiny fee or no cost.
TechCrunch posts the transcript of a Charlie Rose interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt. In it, among other things, Schmidt talks about rumors regarding Google's potential interest in acquring Twitter and about mobile TV.
Here's what Schmidt said about Twitter:
You also bought YouTube. You have Google news. We’re in a time now, and we’re going to talk a lot about the economy in this conversation because of the roles you have. Acquisitions come up. People are excited these days, the lost several months about Twitter. Does Google want to buy Twitter.
I shouldn’t talk about specific acquisitions. We’re unlikely to buy anything in the short term partly because I think prices are still high. And it’s unfortunate I think we’re in the middle of a cycle. Google is generating a lot of cash. And so we keep that cash in extremely secure banks.
Schmidt is also quite bullish on the outlook for "mobile TV":
Eric Schmidt: Well, in our case we’re building the platform that will allow the content people to do more targeted content. So you can imagine the mobile device will say, well, Eric, you watched this episode of this television show, we’ll offer you this other one. Or didn’t you forget that you already watched that episode of Charlie Rose? You should watch this other one because it’s related to the one you liked. This personal viewing experience is a fundamental thing that the Internet can do, and companies like Google can do.
People are watching more and more mobile video; whether the concept of "personalized TV" comes to fruition on mobile devices is another matter.
When Schmidt talks about the future it's typically conceptual. He won't talk about Google's intended actions or products. He speaks generally about whether Google is seeing certain kinds of activity, etc.
He's of course right when he speaks about the potential of mobile devices to offer customized or personalized content and programming. The context of the TV-related quote above is a discussion of the Kindle, which is itself a fascinating device and points the way to an Internet tablet distinct from current mobile smartphones.
Schmidt's remarks about Twitter suggest that the company has considered the acquisition carefully and is evaluating how much it would take to successfully acquire it. It may not be placing as much of a value on Twitter as its investors are. Google bought two Twitter-like services (Jaiku, Zingku) and failed to develop them successfully.
Twitter is now a bona fide cultural phenomenon, however, and Google could quickly monetize its "searches" and page views. It would also preempt something that may be emerging (in the mobile context) as a partial threat to search. So we shouldn't see Schmidt's statement above as anything necessarily definitive about Google's intentions regarding Twitter.
Related: Analytis company Ominuture is offering monitoring of "brand activity" on Twitter. I suspect it charts mentions of brands and products on Twitter and shows up or down trends.
MobiTV announced that it had crossed the six million subscriber mark.
Despite this, I continue to be very bearish on a separate subscription business model for mobile television. While there's no question that people will increasingly be consuming video on their smartphones, the idea that they'll be paying separately (e.g., $9.99 per mo) for access to TV shows is very unlikely.
Some subscribers may step up to the next level with their carrier data plans to get access to mobile video programming. However, during the recession, mobile TV is very definitely not a "must have." Again, the two areas of potential exception to this rule are sports and adult content for selected groups of business (read: male) users.
Eventually mobile video (especially as Flash kicks in) will be available from multiple ad-supported sources including services like Joost and Hulu, which represent a profound threat to a service such as MobiTV or MediaFLO. In addition I believe that cable providers will eventually make TV available via mobile devices as well. In the meantime there's SlingPlayer Mobile.
Accordingly are going to be too many alternative sources of video/TV available to mobile devices in the near future to justify a separate subscription to a "mobile TV" service.
The Mobile World Congress is coming up in Barcelona, Spain in mid-February. The show is like CTIA in its gargantuan sweep and the barrage of announcements and press that come out of it. ZDNet points to to the nominees for a range of mobile awards in connection with the show.
The list includes some familiar and some more obscure names and companies. Of interest to me are the following categories:
There are many more categories and one could probably argue vigorously with some of the nominations in some of the categories.
Meanwhile Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is going to Keynote MWC (as he recently did CES). There's an expectation of a wide range of mobile announcements, including WinMo 6.5 and a competitor to Apple's flawed MobileMe service, as well as an centralized applications market a la iTunes.
At CES earlier this month Ballmer made the announcement that Microsoft would become the default search provider for Verizon Wireless in the US in a multi-year deal that includes a range of ad types. We'll have to actually wait until the MWC keynote to see what gets announced this time around.
Finally, in recent weeks, Microsoft executives implied that the number of Windows Mobile phones in the market would be reduced. That makes sense because the proliferation of WinMo devices has partly impaired the development of a strong brand identity, which is now necessary to succeed in the newly, intensely competitive mobile handset market.
Tomorrow's inaguration of US President Barack Obama promises to be a huge online video event, with numerous sites offering live feeds (compiled at GigaOm). All the major subscription-based mobile TV providers (e.g., VCast) will offer it too.
You'll be able to watch it from the TV/cable broadcast feed on your mobile device if you have the SlingPlayer for your smartphone.
Upstream TV will also be offering an iPhone stream. But to get the app/client, which is currently in private beta, you'll have to email the company. However it's probably too late for tomorrow. (Update: Upstream TV has now released its iPhone app for the inauguration.)
There's no question video on mobile devices will be a huge phenomenon. You're just not going to get many users to pay for a dedicated mobile TV subscription.
Another nail in the coffin of subscription-based mobile TV, Sling Media announced (months after the demo had come out) that its SlingPlayer Mobile will be available for the iPhone in Q1. The player is already available for all the other smartphone operating systems except Android.
What it enables is the viewing of any content from cable TV on PC or, now, mobile device.
Expect cable TV companies to eventually either buy Sling and/or make this capability available to mobile users themselves. As we've argued before, mobile video will be hugely popular but people are unlikely to pay for subscription-based "mobile TV" as a separate item.
This move represents the further "untethering" of video from the TV screen. Indeed, the demand for and consumption of video on PCs continues to climb. Here are the most recent (US) comScore numbers (12.7 bn videos streamed in Nov. 08):
Online video viewing will eventually translate into mobile on smartphones (especially in cases with a great screen such as the BlackBerry Bold or the iPhone). The only question surrounds the precise revenue model that will take hold.
Carriers will potentially get the benefit of increased adoption of unlimited data plans to accomodate the behavior.
Mobile TV is dead, dead, dead. You heard it here first folks.
Anyone who's been reading this blog knows that I'm a detractor of "mobile TV" -- that is, the business model of paying a premium subscription for live TV on your mobile phone. I do however think that mobile video will continue to grow dramatically over time. The issue is: what's the business model?
People are only going to be willing to pay for "mobile TV" as part of an upsell bundle (maybe) or for sports or adult programming. Otherwise, given the quality for most people today, it's not worth it.
But free, ad supported mobile video -- such as what Babelgum is doing in Italy -- is going to become dominant vs. the premium subscription model (e.g., MediaFlo). Consumers are going to go where the video is free. Clips are already free from many mobile sources: YouTube, Joost, Truveo, etc. Expect Hulu to eventually get in the game.
But there are other interesting models and possibilities that might allow for separate fees. One is cable providers starting to offer mobile access to programming as part of a small upsell (or package). Another is what Sling Media is doing, providing mobile access across most smartphone platforms (now BlackBerry is being added). As far as I can tell it comes with your subscription and doesn't involve a separate fee, but this might prompt some people to get the Sling Box.
I imagine a future mobile video landscape that consists of:
Accordingly, the future of mobile TV/video will mostly be free/ad supported.
MobiTV, Inc., today announced its managed network for mobile television and radio has surpassed the five million subscriber mark. Available on more than 350 handsets across 20 carrier networks including AT&T, Sprint and Alltel in the U.S., MobiTV continues to shape the mobile TV market it introduced more than five years ago, including becoming the first to launch a vertically focused mobile media application, Mobi4Biz.
Subscription rates are roughly $10 per month. I continue to be very skeptical of the mass-market viability of a subscription model for mobile TV (except via bundling as an incentive to join a higher-rate plan). There are potential exceptions such as sports, adult (hence MediaFLO's promotion of Victoria Secret TV) and financial, which is the subject of the company's new Mobi4Biz application/service (which could potentially be deducted as a business expense).
However, at a general level, people are largely not going to be willing to spend more than a token amount of additional money per month to get TV programming on their phones, which is still largely a bad experience. (I recently wrote about these issues in discussing MobiTV competitor MediaFLO.)
Let me be clear: I'm critiquing the subscription business model not the potential popularity of video on mobile devices. That continues to gain traction. Recently on the US Disney cable channel, the company was pushing mobile access to its shows to kids.
In addition, Livestation recently showed off a not-yet-released iPhone version of its video streaming service (video). As phones get better and networks get faster mobile video will gain but I'm still not sure that subscription-based mobile TV will share in that success.
Mobile video destination Joost was intended to be Hulu before Hulu came along. However the site has largely failed to take off despite having been around since 2006. Now the hope is that a new iPhone app will jump start growth.
I spent some time comparing Joost, AOL's Truveo and YouTube for the iPhone over the weekend. Joost for the iPhone will only work on a wi-fi connection (not even AT&T's 3G network). Even then it's a relatively uneven and frustrating experience. Truveo, which aggregates videos from many different sources, is an improvement. However, clearly the best experience is on YouTube.
Meanwhile Qualcomm's MediaFLO TV last week announced new content from Scripps Networks, which owns the US cable TV networks the Food Network and HGTV. However the premium service will continue to struggle to find an audience until it can bring price points down to less than $10 per month or make the service entirely ad supported, which won't come until there's more distribution. Alternatively mobileTV could be bundled as part of higher end packages to create an upsell.
Ultimately cableTV providers may bundle mobile access, which would almost immediately kill third party services such as MediaFLO. Right now, hard core sports fans are perhaps willing to pay the premium but the vast majority of mobile users will not, especially when the quality is so uneven. When 4G comes alone mobileTV will be more viable. But pricing is the greatest barrier to adoption.
Here are Nielsen's most recent numbers showing TV/video viewing on the various screens:
When the last "Three Screens" report came out suggesting that US users were watching 3+ hours of mobile video a month I was very skeptical. After talking to Nielsen I discovered that included things like video loaded into iPod Touch devices and iPhones I relaxed somewhat.
Here are the latest numbers from the research firm comparing video/TV viewing on conventional TV, online and on mobile:
Source: Nielsen (11/08)
These data argue that traditional TV hasn't suffered and that video viewing across all "screens" is up, although it's mostly flat from Q2. The headline from most media outlets that covered the release was something along the lines of "TV is bigger than ever."
Back to mobile: the 3:37 per month is not mobile TV; it's video on mobile devices that's preloaded, downloaded or "sideloaded." Mobile TV has yet to make a compelling argument (with the exception of sports) to the mobile subscriber base -- to justify its premium.
I've been stranded without an Internet connection until now at the MMA show in San Diego. The show is uneven but there has been some great stuff on selected panels. I'll write up some of those observations later when I get the chance.
For the moment, I wanted to repeat what AdMob said in the Q&A portion of a session that was a Platform-A presentation during lunch. Someone asked about mobile video response and metrics. AdMob's Tony Nethercutt said that on ads where there's a video call to action ("Watch Video") the company saw a "50% increase" in click-through rates.
Of course that's only going to be for people who have video-capable phones. But that's an impressive metric.
Late last week comScore put out more data on mobile video for Q3:
Here are the tables:
These numbers are still small but they're growing. As mobile devices become more "video-friendly" and easier for consumers to use, we'll see much more video consumption on them. However, the outlook for a subscription-based mobile TV offering is not very strong.
Consumers are price sensitive and don't see watching TV content on their mobile devices as a "must have," especially when it requires them to pay extra for it. Over time that may change. And to truly drive "mobile TV" adoption it will need to be bundled (e.g., Sprint's everything plan) or "free" and entirely ad supported.
Lots of folks, including carriers and traditional broadcasters, are hanging their proverbial hat on the future of mobile TV. Indeed the Kelsey Group says mobile TV is "on the cusp" in a recent blog post. However that cusp is still years away as a practical matter.
Obstacles to mobile TV include:
The simple truth right now is that mobile TV has very limited traction in the US. Earlier this year Nielsen reported gains in mobile video viewing, but that's mostly about clips or downloaded video on handsets like the iPhone.
Live sports is the one exception that might drive mobile TV adoption among selected demographics.
The bottom line is this: the user experience must get radically better for mobile TV/video to develop as a mass-market phenomenon. Most of the mobile video viewing will continue to be short-form content for some time (news, sports and entertainment clips, movie previews). And pricing is a critical factor in terms of consumer adoption. Ultimately, to drive mainstream adoption of mobile TV, it will need to be free or nearly free and be ad-supported.
There's an interesting paradox in mobile. On the one hand we have firms such as Portio Research forecasting continued "robust" handset growth amid the global economic downturn. According to Cellular-News:
A new report from Portio Research reveals that over half the world now uses a mobile phone and predicts that 80% of the world’s population will be doing so by the end of 2013 - a staggering 5.8 billion people.
But then there's this bit about declining ARPU:
Meanwhile despite rising worldwide mobile voice and data revenues Mobile ARPU continues to decline and is predicted to fall from USD 23.2 in 2005 to USD 15.8 by the end of 2013, largely because additional subscriber growth is likely to come from low per capita income markets.
Separately, others are predicting that nascent mobile advertising growth is likely to suffer in an uncertain economic climate. Despite billions of users and growth in mobile data/text and Internet access, some are predicting that the growth in mobile ads will slow because of the "unproven" nature of mobile advertising. Adify's Russ Fradin is quoted in a BusinessWeek article along those lines:
When budgets are tight, advertisers tend to look for proven methods, such as ads placed alongside a Google or Yahoo search, and place less emphasis on experimental venues, such as social networks, experts say. "Mobile and social networks will be hit," Fradin says.
Mobile advertising's development is inevitable. The question is how quickly and in what precise segments of the market will revenues develop? Fradin's comment is correct; in a time of uncertainty there's retrenchment and conservatism among media buyers and planners. No one wants to take risks and lose his job over novel strategies, which may or may not perform as anticipated.
But the numbers in mobile can't be ignored. It's just for the infrastructure to develop more fully and for agencies and marketers to become educated and comfortable with the medium. That's probably about a 2-3 year cycle.
Right now this is primarily about movie trailers. But as video advertising (esp. for local businesses) becomes more pervasive online, it becomes available to high end mobile devices such as the Bold, iPhone or Android.
Think American Idol or other television shows that involve audience voting via SMS or similar text messaging calls to action. Confirming messages or responses will now likely offer ads via SinglePoint's new "SingleBrand" ad platform. According to the release:
SingleBrand provides advertisers with the ability to insert advertising into existing mobile interactive TV campaigns delivered by SinglePoint. For example, when a TV viewer responds to a call to action to cast a vote for their favorite performer via their mobile phone, they may receive a confirmation reply thanking them for voting that also includes an ad message . . .
The U.S. TV networks will employ this or similar systems and likely take a revenue share of any CPM or PPC inventory. What's interesting about this, as we've discussed before, is the capacity to extend, measure and enhance traditional media using text messaging. What's also interesting about this are the following:
All of the above, to varying degrees, depend on how widely deployed the system or similar systems are and how widely viewed the participating shows are.
Fifty to 70%+ of the U.S. mobile subscriber base uses text messaging with some degree of regularity. And when you consider that more than 100 million people in the U.S. and hundreds of millions globally will be watching the Olympics, if SingleBrand were deployed by NBC and other coverage providers, that could represent millions and millions in SMS-related ad revenue. It's not clear to me whether NBC (or any of the Olympic sponsors) are integrating mobile into their marketing efforts. They would be foolish not to.
Yahoo is offering a dedicated mobile Olympics site, which will have advertising.
We're likely to see more and more, similar efforts to link SMS and traditional media, with corresponding and contextually relevant ads inserted into those texts.
I had read about Qik a number of times, but first saw the service in action a couple of weeks ago when I moderated a panel on new mobile startups at the offices of France Telecom/Orange in South San Francisco. It was an impressive service and dead simple. Today, the service goes from "private beta" into "public beta."
Qik permits live video streaming in real-time (or near real-time). Clips are achieved and can be shared or embedded in third-party sites. There's also a social networking dimension to Qik. Now the service is on the iPhone too. (At the Orange event, Qik was one of two services that did not use the iPhone for demo purposes.)
The use cases for Qik are many and varied and there are lots of B2B scenarios. Think also: news, travel, events and so on. The simplicity of the service all but guarantees its success. But quality will need to improve for more "professional" uses.
Avot Media conducted an online consumer mobile video survey (sample size not specified). According to the press materials "Survey takers were asked to test-drive Avot Media’s mobile video delivery service. After watching a video they answered 10 short questions about the overall experience."
It's not at all clear how well these findings can be generalized beyond the respondents themselves. But there's clearly a "half empty" or "half full" story to tell from the results. Avot tells the half full story.
Here are some of the findings (for those 29 and younger):
On the half empty side, depending on your perspective, the following respondent percentages expressed "concerns" about:
Without specifying any numbers the release also says: "The study uncovers users' concerns and interests regarding mobile media quality, start-up time, costs, and content choice."
Mobile video still has a long way to go (mobile TV in particular). But I must clarify my remarks about the recent Nielsen Mobile study about video viewing. I was told that the 3+ hours of mobile video included downloads/sideloads (not just TV subs) and was a median number not an average.
Yesterday, in an email to me, Yahoo assailed the credibility and methodology behind Nielsen's mobile search market share estimate. As I look at Nielsen's mobile video numbers reported earlier this week I'm lead to ask whether they're credible in this arena. In a report on TV/video viewing across screens, Nielsen found the following:
Nielsen's findings show that screen time of the average American continues to increase with TV users watching more TV than ever before (127 hrs, 15 min per month), while also spending 9% more time using the Internet (26 hrs, 26 min per month) from last year. At the same time, a small but growing number of Internet and mobile phone users are watching video online (2 hrs, 19 min per month), as well as using their cell phones to watch video (3 hrs, 15 min per month).
Source: Nielsen Mobile (5/08)
Regarding the mobile component of this research, I simply don't buy it. I know no one -- not one person -- who regularly watches mobile video, let alone more than three hours per month. Consistently, competing data indicate most U.S. consumers are at best ambivalent about mobile video at worst completely indifferent. Mobile TV subscriber numbers are basically tiny in the U.S., though larger in the EU and Asia.
iPhone video usage and viewing data reflect that with better handsets people will watch video. But pricing is arguably the biggest issue. Before mobile video/TV can really grow into a mainstream phenomenon prices will need to come down for a la carte subscribers or be bundled as an incentive to upgrade to "everything" plans, as with Sprint.
Here's lots more Nielsen Mobile data, which argues that the US leads in terms of mobile Internet adoption. I'll do more analysis of the data later on.