Mobile video – does anyone care?
Mobile video – does anyone care?
There’s a story on the wires about a Nielsen Media Research report which claims that people just aren’t using their video enabled iPods to watch videos. I can’t say I’m surprised – the industry has been pushing mobile video for some time now, but I really can’t see it happening. It’s too easy to assume that digital video will inevitably follow the same path as digital audio, but I think the situation is a little more complex.
For a start, the most obvious point is that you can enjoy high quality audio on a mobile device, but the same is not true of video. To enjoy video properly you need a decent sized screen, and even the best mobile device is going to have a pretty feeble 3 inch LCD panel. If you’re watching video for entertainment, then you’re generally going to want a better experience than a mobile device can offer.
The second issue is logistical. You can listen to music or other audio while you’re doing other stuff – walking, driving, or even working. In the Prompt office on any given day you’ll find various members of the team plugged into their iPods while they’re beavering away. But watching video is more of a commitment – video based entertainment generally comes in chunks of 25 minutes or more that demand your undivided attention for the entire duration of the episode or movie.
You can’t watch a film while you’re driving to work, or enjoy the latest Scrubs episode while you wander around Sainsbury’s. If you spend a lot of time on the train, then you might buy a portable DVD player with a half decent sized screen, or use a laptop to watch video, but this is a different and much smaller market to the mainstream mobile phone and digital media device user base that media giants want to pay for video services.
Mobile audio is a paradigm we are very comfortable with, we’ve had over 25 years to get used to the idea of being able to listen to our personal music library while we’re on the move. Mobile video is different, it’s still a relatively new concept and one which neither the available content or audience is yet fully prepared for.
This brings me on to the final problem – when you buy music, it’s easy to get it into a digital format suitable for mobile devices, you can either download it directly from the internet, or it’s easy enough to rip CDs to MP3. This is not yet true of video based entertainment – movies and TV shows are only really available on DVD, and ripping them to a format suitable for use on mobile devices is too complicated for most users. Apple’s iTunes service offers movie and TV show downloads to US users and these can be transferred to your iPod, but again I have to wonder why anybody would want to watch this kind of content on a screen less than half the size of a paperback book.
There’s plenty of content available on YouTube which lends itself better to mobile viewing, but this can only be streamed, rather than saved onto a mobile device for later viewing. YouTube type content is more suited to spontanious consumption, it’s the kind of thing decide on the spot that they feel like watching, rather than planning ahead and downloading the clips for later viewing. I think people will view YouTube type content on mobile devices, but two things need to happen – mobile internet connections need to get a lot better, and network operators need to implement realistic charging structures for mobile data.
We’re starting to see some promising signs from the likes of T-Mobile and Three, which are now offering affordable flat rate mobile data services, but the larger players need to do the same. Nobody is going to download streaming video to their mobiles with while they’re still being charged per megabyte.
If users are free to download as much content as they want for a flat fee, this opens the door for services like YouTube to support their free content service with advertising. It’s unlikely that many people will regularly want to watch full length movies or even TV shows on their mobile devices, but I think that there’s a good chance they can be persuaded to download free YouTube clips supported with brief adverts whenever they’ve got a bit of time to kill.