Delivering Video in the Mobile Revolution

Reaching viewers on mobile devices is becoming increasingly important as three trends emerge:

1. Cutting the Cord

Subscribers are increasingly “cutting the cord” and relying more on mobile devices for their connectivity needs.

2. The Mainstream

The smartphone is becoming mainstream.  As capabilities and ease-of-use improve, media-capable smartphones are seeing increasing adoption among a less technical, more mainstream audience. One recent survey indicates that smartphones are now used by 1 in 4 U.S. Mobile Subscribers.

3. Mobile Tablets

Lightweight, mobile tablets squeeze in a new segment.  Media publishers have long thought in terms of reaching viewers on “three screens:” the PC, the TV and the mobile phone.  Tablets add a viable “fourth screen” to this equation. Signs point to an increasingly active playing field for tablets in 2011.

This mobile “revolution” represents a fantastic opportunity for businesses to deliver compelling content to mobile device users. But there are challenges to optimizing content delivery — especially video – for mobile devices. Here are a few of those challenges:

Proliferation of Devices

Apple has become a significant player in the smartphone market.  With over 70 million iPhones sold since launch, the iPhone has been pivotal in reinventing the space.  Google – with the Android platform – has become a major player as well.  According to comScore, as of November 2010, Google had overtaken Apple for the #2 position among smartphone platforms.  Blackberry continues to command the most market share among smartphone subscribers – almost 34% according to comScore – but over the last few years, Apple and Google have been successful at eroding that share. Although it’s clear that Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do, don’t count out the software giant just yet. Microsoft’s recently re-launched mobile platform (Windows Phone 7) has been met with favorable reviews and a number of mobile devices running Windows 7 were on display at January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The tablet market is hot, too.  Apple sold 8.25 million iPads by the end of the Q3 2010 (and an additional 7 million during the holiday quarter—for a total of more than 15 million iPads sold in 2010.)  Morgan Stanley predicts Apple will sell 40 million iPads by the end of 2011, even as the tablet space becomes more crowded. Blackberry will launch its Playbook tablet in February 2011, and HP is readying several webOS-based tablets for announcement, also in February.  In October 2010, Samsung launched the Galaxy Tab, which runs the Google Android operating system, and Caris & Co. estimates that Samsung will sell upwards of 8 million Galaxy Tabs in 2011. And there are more Android OS tablets on the way. In fact, Google Android-powered tablets were the star at this year’s CES – which included product launches by Motorola, LG, Lenovo, Dell and Toshiba.

Video Format Fragmentation

This proliferation of devices has led to tremendous fragmentation of video formats.

Why?  Each of these devices plays different video codecs and has a different optimal video resolution.  Some of the devices work on 3G (even 4G) networks – others are Wi-Fi only.

What does all this jargon mean?  In short, the same video file that looks great on one device may not even play on another device.  For businesses seeking to reach customers, employees or partners with mobile video, this represents a significant challenge.  Each video file must be prepared individually for each platform – sometimes multiple files per platform in order to address different screen resolutions or connectivity limitations.  As a result, the process of converting from one video format to another – known as transcoding – quickly becomes complex.  The industry has responded by rallying around the H.264 codec.  All mobile device platforms support this video codec in some manner, but core video files can be “wrapped” with a number of different mechanisms.  So the way Adobe supports the H.264 codec is different from the way Microsoft supports the codec.  In addition, Google recently unveiled an open source video format to compete with H.264.  It looks like the problem of formatting video multiple ways for multiple devices isn’t going away any time soon.

There’s a lot to think about before investing in mobile video. In my next post I’ll give some recommendations on where to start and what to think about. In the meantime, what do you see as ways to take advantage of mobile video?
The Networking Exchange Blog Team About NEB Team