On the YouTube PC site users are permitted to skip pre-roll ads after 5 seconds. This is a brilliant compromise between the need to better monetize YouTube video streams and Google's general commitment to the user experience and performance-based ads.
If users don't like the ads they skip; if they're interested they watch. The advertiser only pays for those who watch the ad after the initial 5 seconds.
It's a great system and Google has now extended it to mobile YouTube video. Google argues the approach is better for everyone and advertisers get much more value by allowing consumers to self-select the ads they watch:
With TrueView, we’ve developed a model where user engagement matters -- people can skip ads they aren’t interested in after five seconds. Giving viewers choice over ads they watch has led to a better, more engaged viewing experience, benefiting the entire YouTube community of users, advertisers, and content creators.
The argument is persuasive to me. It also forces creative types in agencies to really work to make ads more interesting and entertaining. The epitome of that is the previous Old Spice campaign ("The man your man could smell like"), which was a huge "viral" success.
In mobile, ads are either relevant, entertaining or their opposites. Forcing a broadcast, "interruption" model on mobile users doesn't make much sense. You'll just annoy or alienate your audience. Hopefully other mobile video ad providers will follow Google's lead; however I doubt it.
Next week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is a gargantuan event that will feature a kind of soup-to-nuts inventory of what's happening in mobile: advertising platforms, developers, carriers and handset OEMs will all convene to promote themselves. The press releases are already flying fast and furious.
Even though it's not a hardware show exactly, most of the focus will be on handsets and tablets. There will likley be little genuine news of interest and mostly PR about mobile. Probably the biggest news of the event happened today with the announcement of the Nokia-Microsoft deal.
Microsoft's Steve Ballmer will keynote but there will be little new information. He will likely re-iterate the new world that Nokia's adoption of Windows opens up for Microsoft. Yahoo's Carol Bartz will speak. Twitter will be represented in a keynote. RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie will be there. All the chipmakers and carrier CEOs are there.
Everything to say will already have been said in various forums: mobile is huge, disruptive and so on.
I was actually seeking to go this but the absence of available hotel space thwarted my effort. Nonetheless I'm on the press list and will be receiving all the news. I will be blogging about the things I find most interesting but certainly not providing anything like comprehensive coverage.
Apple will apparently have no official presence (just like CES) but will cast its long shadow over the event as Europe's most popular smartphone.
MWC is like a mashup of CTIA (carriers) and CES (devices).
TV is arguably still king of mass media. According to Nielsen the TV audience isn't eroding, although there's some evidence that cable audiences are shrinking and companies are losing subscribers. If it's not eroding, however, the TV (or video content) audience may well be fragmenting to some degree across multiple screens including mobile and connected devices like the iPad.
TV remains a brand's best friend, for better or worse, and many CMOs are reluctant to pull money out of TV. However, Yahoo is making a bold push for a shift in marketing dollars from TV to mobile. To that end the company has introduced new mobile ad formats for mobile and the iPad:
There's plenty of empirical evidence that mobile display and video ads perform better than their counterparts online. That's partly because of novelty but also because of share of voice and the nature of mobile media. It's not unreasonable to argue then in favor of a shift in ad dollars from TV to the iPad, for example. And mobile is really one of the only mediums that can effectively reach younger users.
The following is a Harris Poll result that shows, among media types, where consumers say they ignore ads the most. TV is in the middle.
Almost from "day one" I've argued that subscription-based mobile TV was not going to happen: FLO TV, mobiTV (as a consumer play), mobile carrier TV and even the Fox-backed Bitbop are dead or effectively dead. People don't want to pay a separate fee to watch TV on mobile devices.
The exceptions are sports and some live events perhaps -- emphasis on perhaps. Outside the US markets are different and these observations may not equally apply.
People will watch video on mobile devices; that's growing and will continue to gain. The issue is the model. However, the "mobile TV" model has already shown itself: NetFlix, Hulu, Sling and maybe cable "TV anywhere" strategies.
This is really about mobile distribution of content that users already pay for; it's cloud-based TV that I access through my multiple screens: TV, iPad, handset. A small number of brands (and maybe cable) will own this market.
The carriers and independent companies seeking to break in would have to offer a one-price, similarly multi-platform strategy. Once I'm tied in to a service or a couple of services others are not going to be able to break in unless they can deliver a comparable experience for less money. And that's not likely because of the challenges of negotiating rights to content.
The exception might be a joint network and/or studio effort like another Hulu. Anything else is a non-starter.
While mobile TV is popular outside the US it hasn't caught on in America. Indeed, "round one" of subscription-based mobile TV was a failure (e.g., FloTV). Consumers proved resistant to paying monthly subscription fees for TV on the small screen.
So what makes Fox think that its new mobile TV service Bitbop, which costs $9.99 per month, will succeed? It's not clear. Right now the service is only available for BlackBerry devices. But that will change over time.
Soon Fox-backed Hulu will begin its premium service, also $9.99 per month. The company has also said that it wants to be device agnostic, which means it will be on handsets and tablets relatively soon. Then there's Neflix, one of the iPad's "killer apps" -- coming soon to the iPhone as well.
Netflix and Hulu could easily come to dominate the paid online/mobile video market. But what consumers fundamentally want is "content in the cloud" -- the ability to access TV and movies from any device or screen.
The combination of the two offerings (Netflix/Hulu), accessible across platforms, may crowd out other competitors and be ominous for cable companies.
Cable subscriptions are typically $50 or more per month. If users find they can pay $20 or less to access most of the same content it could spark an exodus from cable. However the cable industry is trying to prevent this by "locking" consumers into bundled subscriptions: ISP, telephone, TV.
Despite this bundling cable could soon be confronting disruption from cloud-based video content providers.
At the All Things Digital conference this past week Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs acknowledged that its FloTV mobile TV service was essentially a failure:
Speaking at The Wall Street Journal's All Things Digital conference, Jacobs said Flo TV, a cable television service that delivers shows from ABC and MTV and other content to mobile devices, hasn't done well despite Qualcomm efforts to build an audience for the service with high-profile advertisements during the Super Bowl and elsewhere.
"There are people who love it, but the numbers are not nearly what we expected," Jacobs said.
This is something we've been saying for some time. FloTV will now be reinvented or broadened according to Jacobs:
Jacobs said he envisions Flo TV evolving into a more general system for delivering data to mobile devices that isn't limited to video. Qualcomm designed Flo TV as a service that can efficiently deliver content to a wide audience through traditional broadcasting methods, an approach that can reduce the network congestion caused by individuals streaming video to their mobile devices.
The problem is not with user demand for video on mobile devices; that has been steadily growing and will continue to gain as faster networks come online and more people buy smartphones:
The problem is that people don't want to pay surcharges or separate subscriptions to watch TV on their phones. It's possible that a few "branded" players such as Hulu, Netflix (maybe YouTube) could succeed with a stand-alone subscription for mobile -- maybe an ESPN as well. More likely, however, is a one-price access model across platforms, which is what Netflix offers today. And the video content will need to include both movies and TV shows.
Fox-backed Bitbop has launched a mobile video app for RIM devices and will be introducing a subscription model at some point. Its two-tiered approach (freemium) might work: get people involved and then upsell them to additional content or commercial free content, etc. Regardless, someone will eventually get the mix of video content and business model right.
Mobile video is gaining traction but subscription-based mobile TV continues to struggle. However there are a few "brands" that could pull it off; Hulu is one of them. The NBC-Fox joint venture is preparing to launch a premium model (this month) and people continue to wait for a mobile version.
Subscription-based Netflix is moving ahead with mobile plans after the successful launch of its iPad app.
The US cable companies also have their cross-platform visions and plans. And now the Fox-backed Bitbop has launched. It's a movie and TV streaming service for mobile devices -- only BlackBerry for now. But other apps are coming. (The inclusion of movies is key to gaining acceptance of the subscription model.)
There are 25 content partners and a $10 per month premium version coming at some point. While the user experience is likely to be acceptable on the small screen -- Bitbop apparently will work on 3G as well as WiFi -- an iPad or Tablet version will likely be much better. But the larger idea represented by all these services and apps is "TV in the cloud" -- anytime/anywhere. This option will drive some number of people to subscribe to a "mobile TV" service.
And with Internet TV poised (e.g., Google TV) to take off services like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and possibly Bitbop become potential ways around cable fees.
Most people would rather pay $10 per month to watch their favorite shows and movies (even if delayed vs. cable and DVD) vs. $60 to $100 per month for premium cable. Of course none of these services offer sports, which is a big driver of cable subscriptions and retention.
The Consumer Electronics Show opens tonight in Las Vegas and there are a ton of announcements coming out of the show already. Mostly they surround three areas: eReaders/Tablets/Slate computers, 3D TV and mobile TV. Here are just a few of the announcements and related coverage so far:
The Samsung Moment is offering free TV via the new mobile DTV standard. Free TV will be of interest to most people who would like to watch TV on mobile devices.
But the persistent question surrounding the so-far unsuccessful mobile TV efforts in the US and abroad is how to get consumers to pay. Then there are the "TV Everywhere" efforts of TimeWarner, Dish Network and Comcast to provide access online and in some cases via mobile devices to subscribers. This extends the "reach" of their subscriptions to other devices.
Although paid offerings have not been very successful to date, a recent survey shows an apparent, growing willingness to pay for premium TV and video content on smartphones. However other surveys show price sensitivity:
Source: QuickPlay Media, n=1,000 (3/09)
There will ultimately probably be three or four "mobile TV" business models in the market:
The idea of a monthly fee for a stand-alone mobile TV subscription, however, is likely to fail (as it has to date).
I'm not going to keep doing this for the next week or so, but here are JumpTap's and the MMA's predictions for next year:
10. Hypochondriac? We've got an app for that!
Ongoing global pandemics and concerns about socialized healthcare warrant a prescription for mobile content geared toward the sick and the paranoid. Symptoms to watch for include apps that diagnose, doctors that text and medical reminders at hand. Mobile health is just what the doctor ordered!
9. Back to Reality...
Oh, those boring old coupons - they get lost, forgotten, left behind or expired. Look for augmented reality to start playing a larger role in location-based advertising. Now, when you're walking into your favorite coffee shop, the real-time mobile coupon you receive gives you instant gratification with your discounted daily grind.
8. I want my Mobile TV.
In the coming year, both the 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2010 World Cup will heighten mobile video consumption. The introduction of new ad units, including interactive and partial screen, will subsidize free content.
7. Practice Safe Text
Governments and safety advocates around the world warned against texting and driving in 2009. We expect 2010 to bring about technology solutions that disable handset features when the owner is driving.
6. A guy walks into a Barcode...
Proliferation of standardized technology and higher quality camera phones will not only lead to increased adoption of mobile barcodes and coupons, but will also offer a whole new access point to content.
5. Have you hugged your aggregator lately?
Look for aggregators to expand their businesses beyond shortcodes. Aggregation services in the areas of location, customer service and mobile commerce will begin to emerge.
4. Turn free in 1.2 miles
Free is a very good price. We're keeping an eye out for no-cost turn-by-turn navigation applications rolling out on more devices in 2010. The end of stand-alone GPS is in sight. What great news for consumers...and McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts and Dairy Queen.
3. Your Skype is Showing
Services that enable video conferencing and the networks and handsets that support it (like cameras on the front of the phone!) will proliferate in the coming year. More consumers will connect via WiFi, offloading traditional non-wireless video conferencing services.
2. How does mobile measure up?
Moving into 2010 and beyond, campaign effectiveness will be measured in a variety of different and very creative ways. The number of eyeballs, shakes and finger swipes. The number of blogs, articles, tweets and diggs. The number of acquisitions, conversions, calls, responses or purchases. Total basket size, consumer recall, loyalty and recommendations. Check-ins on foursquare and check-outs on Amazon.
1. Mobile's Sixth Sense
Over the past few years, the mobile device has moved beyond standard technology inputs. We're no longer talking, typing and clicking. Now, we're photographing, recording, touching, locating, shaking, accelerating and blowing. What's next? We're rooting for smell recognition.
A week ago Nielsen released its latest "three screen" report that seeks to capture usage trends concerning TV, online video and mobile video. Overwhelmingly traditional TV is where people spend most of their time consuming video. Here's the top line:
Americans consume media at a record pace – 129 hrs of TV, 27 hrs of Internet, 3 hrs of mobile video each month
Nielsen says there are now almost 16 million people in the US watching video on mobile devices (this includes all types). Here are audience demographics for each platform:
I remain extremely skeptical about consumer willingness to pay for mobile TV unless it's part of a bundle (either from the carrier or the cable company).
Separately Frank N. Magid Associates conducted a survey in November to determine interest in "live mobile television." The survey consisted of 1,007 respondents (18-59) and is reportedly representative of the US Internet user population. The survey explored a range of issues around programming content and the hypothetical business model.
Here are some of the charts (numbers below are %):
These survey results show a very high degree of openness to watching ads on mobile video to subsidize costs. However there's a surprisingly high number (46% of smartphone owners that would pay for content). Here's the Magid comment about the findings:
Premium content also has potential, with more than one-third (36%) of respondents expressing interest in paying for premium content, such as recent movies, premium sporting events, etc. on a subscription or pay-per-view basis. Early adopters (61%), Adult Millennials (42%) and Smartphone owners (46%) are most interested in this content.
I believe that selected groups would pay for sporting events and movies on a per use basis. Those models are well established. I'm just quite a bit more skeptical that people would pay a cable-TV like subscription (unless nominal or bundled) for general "mobile TV."
I'm a critic, in case you haven't guessed, of subscription-based mobile TV. Mobile video is gaining and consumers are increasingly watching video on smartphones. But paying for TV on mobile devices is a different matter.
Qualcomm's FLO TV (just like other mobile TV offerings) is facing an very difficult uphill battle, if not failing. Lackluster consumer adoption has forced the company in a new direction: launching its own device, called "FLO TV Personal Television."
But this device costs $250 (with six months of TV for free, after that it costs). The device should flop pretty massively. Why? Here's why:
Engadget has a demo video.
The winners in this space should be the cable TV providers, which could offer mobile as part of an upsell package or a retention plan, which they'll increasingly have to think about as more and more content alternatives emerge (e.g., Netflix).
The BBC has decided not to go forward with ambitious mobile TV syndication plans, in another sign of lackluster consumer interest in mobile TV. In a year-long trial with top mobile operators (save O2) the BBC found limited interest among users. According to a published report:
The 12 month trial was held by the BBC last year in partnership with Orange, Vodafone, T-Mobile, 3 and Sky. A subsequent BBC consultation document said the trial results ‘suggested that the level of demand for content delivered via 3G is uncertain and may, at least in the short to medium term, be relatively small’.
At its peak, only 580 users per day accessed the BBC’s TV channels during the trial.
Apparently however the BBC still has plans to stream Olympics coverage to mobiles.
These findings are consistent with limited consumer interest in the US in "mobile TV." Mobile video continues to grow as a broader category; however consumers have little interest in paying premiums to watch TV on their handsets. Pricing and user experience are the central challenges for mobile TV. As part of a bundle to lure subscribers into an "unlimted" tier of service, mobile TV may have some appeal.
However given increasing price competition among US operators such deals may be unprofitable for both them and the mobile TV vendors. Eventually we predict that TV subscription revenues will provide only a small amount to the involved parties and most of the "mobile TV" revenues will come from advertising. There may eventually be some appeal for on-demand programming on a per transaction basis, but that will probably need to wait for 4G.
Blockbuster Inc. today announced plans to feature the BLOCKBUSTER OnDemand movie download service in select Motorola phones, giving Motorola access to the BLOCKBUSTER OnDemand service and furthering Blockbuster's digital strategy by providing its library of premium digital entertainment to mobile devices for the first time.
Through the agreement select Motorola phones will feature an exclusive BLOCKBUSTER OnDemand application, providing on-the-go download access to Blockbuster's digital library of thousands of current BLOCKBUSTER OnDemand movies.
This may boost the OnDemand service slightly but it's not really going to help Motorola that much. Perhaps if there are two equally priced Android handsets side by side (Motorola vs. Samsung) this might be something of a tie-breaker.
As a stand-alone offering people might pay a monthly subscription, but I'm guessing it's part of a larger subscription package that provides access to mobile as a part of the larger offering.
Mobile video viewing continues to gain though subscription-based mobile TV will continue to struggle as an unnecessary product (unless or until the price becomes trivial or part of an upsell data package).
Source: Opus Research 4/09 (n=611)
On the success of its Lucky Magazine app, NearbyNow has built iPhone apps for Seventeen Magazine and Runners World (with others to come) that allow users to review apparel and purchase locally, using NearbyNow's inventory monitoring and verification. According to the press release:
Seventeen Fashion Finder will feature a variety of fashion and accessories that are teens' fall must-haves. The application allows teen girls to search by product: jeans, tops, bags and shoes; by trend: rocker, bo-ho, classic and girly or by price point. The application then checks availability and reserves any of the products in stores nearby. Seventeen Fashion Finder is the first mobile application targeted at the teen market that allows users to locate and reserve products in their local area.
The best way to illustrate how it works is with several screenshots of the Seventeen Magzine app:
As I said this is the first of a number of apps that NearbyNow is developing for publishers. One of the other things that is reportedly happening, according to NearbyNow CEO Scott Dunlap, is that sharing among mobile users is driving additional volume. Dunlap told me in an email:
In the App next to every product image is a button that allows you to e-mail to a friend. The e-mail response also includes a button that says “find local." This means that any recipient of the e-mail can find the closest store next to THEM that has the product, even if they don’t have an iPhone. We’re already seeing this as driving substantial traffic.
As Dunlap has pointed out in the past (it's worth repeating): "iPhone shoppers are 17x more likely to click find local than buy online."
What NearbyNow is doing with publishers is bringing them a new engagement and advertising platform that extends the reach of their brands and advertisers to demographically desirable audiences.
Today, Brian Stelter in The New York Times reported that Google's YouTube property is adding "News Near You." it is a feature that uses Web servers' (and presumably mobile network operators') ability to assess geographic location to tailor video newsfeeds. Over time it will evolve into a local video news station thanks to a program by Google and YouTube to enlist participation of local media outlets. Stelter makes a Bay Areas start-up called VidSF into the poster child for the new service, but YouTube started the program months ago and has solicited content from over 25,000 organizations who have posted video news in the past. To fill the inventory, it touts video news from YouTube stalwarts AP, ABC News and Reuters.
To date, according to the Times' story, 200 news organizations have joined the effort. The lure is a split of advertising revenues that appear on the site. These are not significant today, but could grow as the Google search engine serves up links to YouTube in response to to searches on its much trafficked Web site. In addition YouTube itself sports robust search capabilities.
In many ways, YouTube is giving structure - and perhaps a financial base - to an effort that has been haphazard. Stelter reports that the organizers of News Near You were surprised to find that several newspaper outlets, including the New York Times, The Dallas Morning News and Cincinatti Enquirer, were already posting video's to YouTube. What continues to be missing is a parallel effort to enlist local businesses or brands with local outlets to tailor their promotional messages to local viewers.
In short, there is a long way to go - in terms of content aggregation, audience building and proof of utility - before News Near You becomes a truly local resource but the technology elements are there.
On this blog I've been a big detractor of mobile TV -- the consumer pays subscription model that is. Mobile video viewing and usage will only go up but the prospects for charging people to watch shows on mobile devices will dim as they bump up against a wall of tepid or non-existent consumer demand.
Let me qualify this by saying that people may be willing to buy premium subscriptions that include TV as part of some larger offer (i.e., unlimited data). They may also pay for the ability to access events from time to time (e.g., world cup soccer). And in some cases they might pay their cable company some additional, nominal fee to get slingbox-like access to their TV on a smartphone.
But the idea that millions and millions of users will pay $15-$30 per month more to get access to conventional TV programming on the small screen is not going to happen. Carriers that had been counting on developing a healthy additional revenue stream from TV subscriptions are not going to see big dollars, pounds, euros emerge.
This quote from a recent Reuters story about the state of mobile TV sums it up:
"It is a financial disaster," said John Strand, a consultant who has followed the mobile [TV] industry closely for more than 12 years. "It's a nice product, but the customers won't pay for it."
There are just too many free sources of content and alternatives. And in a time of belt-tightening and recession mobile TV is a frivolous expense. However, ad-supported mobile video and TV may have a bright future. Users will be willing to watch video/TV commercials on mobile devices in exchange for free content -- like the traditional TV broadcast model. A recent Forbes piece offers some data on current ad rates for mobile TV:
The average cost for ads on mobile TV ranges from $5-$10 per thousand impressions for a banner ad and $30-$40 per thousand impressions for video.
This is where the action will be: free TV programming and video supported by ads or purchased directly without commercials (i.e., via iTunes).
After premiering its "unlimited voice, data and Web mobile wireless service" at the CTIA Wireless in April, Zer01 started aggressively marketing its unlimited package for Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) to resell. With a target price of $69.95 per month, pre-paid with no contract required, this amounts to a test-case for all-you-can eat media consumption. Zer01 is a technology company that is wholly owned by Unified Technologies Group, Inc (UTGI)., a global technology services and consulting company. It has invested its time and resources in establishing interconnection agreements among wireless carriers in North America and around the globe. The first company offering the unlimited mobile VoIP service is GlobalVerge/Buzzkirk. If the service takes off, a direct beneficiary should be VoIP wholesaler Pervasip Corp.
Bill Stone, who Qualcomm hired earlier this year to run its Flo TV business, said that the service has been too expensive. Especially because AT&T and Verizon tend to sell it in a package that includes other wireless video for $25 or $30 a month, half the price of a typical home cable TV bill.
Right now Qualcomm doesn’t set the retail price for service sold through phone companies. But soon later this year it will start selling directly to consumers with what Mr. Stone said will be more attractive prices. Customers will be able to subscribe on an annual plan for a price probably less than $10 a month. There may be one day passes for something like $5 and month-to-month subscriptions in the $10 a month range, he said.
In my view only sports, news and adult content will attract premium subscription dollars, given all the free video content that's now available in mobile including the anticipated launch of Hulu for the iPhone.
MocoNews previously reported the estimates of research firm SNLKagan about mobile TV revenues and subscribers:
MobiTV had 4.4 million subscribers in the U.S. for 2008. In the fourth quarter 2008, SNL estimates that Qualcomm’s MediaFLO had 239,000 subscribers, up from 40,000 in the same period a year earlier.
In our most recent North American consumer survey we found limited interest in mobile TV (n=611, March 2009).
Note that 7% said "yes" and 18% said "depends on cost." Five percent said "depends on service quality." So we could extrapolate that roughly 30% of the mobile market has at least some degree of interest in mobile TV. Execution, quality and pricing here are thus critical in gaining subscribers.
Last week, Nielsen put out its quarterly three screen report tracking video viewing. Here's the data to support the headline above:
[T]he average American watches approximately 153 hours of TV every month at home, a 1.2% increase from last year. In addition, the 131 million Americans who watch video on the Internet watch on average about 3 hours of video online each month at home and work. The 13.4 million Americans who watch video on mobile phones watch on average about 3 ½ hours of mobile video each month.
According to Nielsen, those 12-17 watch double the average amount of video on their mobile phones: 6+ hours monthly.
Comedy and weather (that's right, weather) are the video categories most watched on mobile phones, says Nielsen.
All this mobile video includes downloaded content from sources like the iTunes store. Notwithstanding the rise in video viewing on mobile devices there remains little appetite for subscription based TV on mobile phones. In our most recent consumer survey only 7% expressed interest in mobile TV, while the large majority said no and some said it would depend on cost and/or quality.
It's the last of the major smartphone platforms to get SlingPlayer Mobile, but the iPhone now has one -- for $29.99. You've got to have the SlingBox at home, but it allows users to access their cable TV on the go without additional subscription fees. The only catch is that you've got to be on a WiFi connection; it won't work on AT&T's network.
Hulu is reportedly coming out with an iPhone app as well.
Why is this important or significant? Smartphone users continue to consume more and more video on their handsets. But price remains the central barrier to subscription-based mobile TV services. (However we recently found a majority of mobile users were not interested in "mobile TV.")
Free or ad-supported mobile video services or those such as the one from SlingMedia will eventually crowd out all but a small number of the paid "mobile TV" services. I would also expect the cable companies to eventually try and offer a Sling-like mobile video/TV service perhaps as part of an upsell package. But they may be very slow in doing so.