Nic Covey, Director of Insights
What outlook should we have when contemplating the future of mobile video? For content providers, carriers, advertisers and consumers, mobile video is often a glass-half-full / glass-half-empty scenario. Yes, the industry is placing tremendous attention and investment in the medium – but, by comparison its reach is fairly humble. And yes, the possibility for future growth is enormous when we consider content and commerce potential– but, it’s a complicated path to that future.
For some perspective, we turn to Nielsen’s latest Mobile Video Report, which paints the picture either way: It provides affirming insights on mobile video’s best year yet. Nonetheless, it highlights substantial limitations and challenges ahead.
Glass Half-Full – Mobile Video’s Best Year Ever
- Reach, up 70 percent year over year, crossed the 10 million active viewer mark in 2008 and kept going – up to 15.3 million active viewers as of Q2 2009 (that’s roughly 7% of all US mobile subscribers)
- With “All You Can Eat” mobile data packages and increased access to mobile video over the mobile Web, access to mobile video content is more affordable than ever. A subscriber with a data package that includes video now pays $5.73 a month, on average, compared to $8.32 a year ago. Meanwhile, most mobile video viewers today aren’t even paying for a special package, but instead access mobile web through mobile Web access, simplifying the means to mobile video
- Though average subscription cost of mobile video is down, added reach still helped carriers claim a record $308 million in mobile video subscriptions in Q2 2009, up 11% compared to the prior quarter
Glass Half-Empty – Many phones not answering the call
- Half of U.S. mobile subscribers still carry phones that aren’t even capable of viewing video (52%), that’s just a marginal improvement over two years ago (62%). The adoption rate of mobile-video capable phones slowed as the economy weakened
- Among mobile video viewers, satisfaction with the overall experience went down over the last year (74% in Q2 2008 to 65% in Q2 2009). Even more troubling, consumer satisfaction decreased around undeniably improving components such speed, reliability, content, price and general audio and video quality.
- The mobile video audience is churning quickly. Disproportional to year-over-year audience growth, today’s mobile video audience is made up mostly of viewers still in their first year of use (78%). Since its introduction, the adoption rate of mobile video has been governed by a revolving audience of mobile video “testers,” viewers who try out the medium for under a year and then ditch it. Mobile video today still lacks the stickiness it needs for more rapid growth.
A mixed bag for sure, but no matter your take on mobile video, today, it’s hard to deny that a confluence of factors — better devices, faster networks, dedicated programmers, consumer interest – prime the pump for the broader, if bumpy, adoption of the platform. In short, the catalysts for growth are now in place.
A different kind of growth
Perhaps adoption of mobile video may look more like the gradual, linear adoption of DVRs than the exponential growth of portable MP3 players and the similarity wouldn’t be a coincidence. DVRs and mobile video are analogous in their transformational nature: technologies that fundamentally alter the time or place of media consumption. That’s a very distinct evolution from a technology such as the MP3 player, which did not change the time or place of the portable CD player, but simply refined the user experience of that medium – thus the adoption of the MP3 player was a logical adoptive progression for the consumer. The extent to which mobile video asks consumers to fundamentally alter their consumption patterns should not be understated.
Choose (cautious) optimism
At 6.5% penetration, it’s easy to be a pessimist about mobile video, to see the half-empty glass. But after posting its best year yet, after 70% year over year growth, it’s wiser to be a cautious optimist. Mobile video is a transformational technology that will require real changes or additions to the consumer media diet. As such, it may have a long way to go before making a dramatic impact on our media economy. When it does, though – when mobile video adoption further dissolves barriers of video’s time and place – the beneficiaries will be those who participated in its evolution, those who anticipated and planned for this demand.
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