Recommendations for Optimizing Video for Mobile Devices

In my last post I talked about some of the challenges involved in optimizing video for mobile devices. Now, let’s take a look at some recommendations that will help overcome those challenges.

Top 5 Recommendations

1. Get a mobile video strategy!

Before you do ANYTHING, decide on what your goals are:

  • Are you selling premium video content to consumers?
  • Is it a subscription or pay-per-view model?
  • Or are you using mobile video to promote your brand – in which case, is it free to view?
  • Are you using video for customer support – for example, recorded tutorials?
  • Have you considered using mobile video to train a remote sales force?

Answering questions like these will help you fine-tune your mobile video strategy.

And depending on your strategy, you may find it advantageous to work across a number of channels.  For example, you might distribute some video from your public website without requiring that users identify themselves.  Video content that you would like to “go viral” can be distributed via a public site like YouTube.  Other video may require a purpose-built application to authenticate viewers and protect the video.  If you don’t have a mobile video strategy, consider working with a consulting firm that specializes in marketing with digital media.

2. Website or App?

Websites are easier to develop, and thanks to emerging technologies like HTML5, can offer sufficient interactivity via a touchscreen interface. HTML5 also includes extensions that allow you to play video from a regular webpage.  All of the mobile platforms support HTML5.  Although users will have to launch their web browser before accessing the website, it’s possible to create shortcuts to your mobile website on most mobile platforms.

On the other hand, native applications or “apps” can offer a truly compelling, immersive experience.  The best mobile apps offer an experience that is distinct from their related websites. (Check out the HBO app for iPhone to see what I mean.)  Native apps must be developed for each platform you want to target and they are more costly to develop than a website. And if you want to distribute your app to consumers, you’ll have to seek (and get) the approval of a 3rd party – like Apple – to have the app included in a centralized “app store” such as iTunes.

To sum up, HTML5 allows you to develop a mobile website that in theory can work well across a number of devices. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of variance in how web browsers interpret HTML5, so you can’t guarantee the same experience across all devices.  And while HTML 5’s interactive capabilities are basic (but growing), they will never match the experience you can get from an “app” running as native code.

My advice is to “dip your toe in” with an HTML5-based website experience.  Test your market and see what devices your customers are using before committing to the development of a dedicated, native app experience (more on this below).

3. Security!

Educate yourself.  Digital Rights Management or DRM has received a black eye in news reports because it complicates consumers’ access to media.  What isn’t often mentioned in those reports is that DRM systems are typically complex and expensive to implement. Unless your business provides premium consumer content, you likely don’t need a robust DRM system.  On the other hand, you can’t disregard security.  If, for example, you are distributing training video that provides a competitive advantage to your employees and select external channel partners, you don’t want that content falling into the wrong hands.  Secure your streams behind logins and use SSL certificates to prevent unauthorized viewing, downloading or recording.  Also consider restricting access to streams based on the user’s domain, IP range or geographic location.

4. Target Your Audience

Don’t bite off more than you can chew!  As I mentioned above, you can start with a simple, straightforward HTML5 web-based experience.  But if you move into native app development, target a subset of devices initially, and move iteratively.  Consider starting with Apple iOS or Google Android devices and moving on to Blackberry devices later.

Speaking of devices, it’s important to understand which ones your customers are using.  Work with your IT department or web hosting company to get the logs for your website.  You’ll want to get a report based on web browser user agent.  This report will show you which web browsers are being used to view your website. From there, it’s easy to quantify and correlate the devices being used to access your website – and easily rank them in order of popularity.

5. Managed Service or Do-It-Yourself?

So how do you go about making all of this work?  Let’s break the solution into pieces:

  • Website or app development
    • Whether you are looking at developing an HTML5 website or a native application, you will need developer skills. You may have some of these skills in-house within your IT department.  However, mobile website and application development is a niche space.  Consider working with a software development company that specializes in this type of development.
  • Video management
    • It’s likely you already have an internal department or external agency shooting and editing the source video content for your organization. This relationship doesn’t need to change.  However, you’ll want to consider a transcoding tool to re-format video for various mobile devices. There are several software packages available for purchase that can be hosted on your own network and that perform this function.  You can also select from a number of reliable online services.  Either way, automation is very important.  Look for a tool or service that can accept source video files, automatically transcode to your desired video formats, and post the derivative files to the correct location.
  • Content Delivery Network
    • A Content Delivery Network, or CDN, helps you deliver a better experience to your customers at a lower cost.  You may already be using a CDN to deliver your website or stream video.  A CDN is highly recommended for streaming video to users’ mobile devices, as mobile bandwidth is more limited. Also, many CDNs now include value-added services to transcode and distribute video for different mobile devices. This means you may be able to source your video management and content delivery needs from one vendor.  Check with your CDN provider.
I would love to hear what some of you are doing to tackle the challenges involved in delivering video on mobile devices.  Comments are welcome.
The Networking Exchange Blog Team About NEB Team