Listen, gang, mobile video is a completely terrific experience, when done well. Good examples are You Tube (their iPhone and Java examples are really good), the MLB At Bat application for iPhone, and to a lesser extent, all of the carrier versions of video are generally, maybe even universally, OK.
So, why are there so many second and third tier mobile content providers teetering on the edge of obscurity? Why can’t I see Law and Order or The Simpsons on my mobile device? Why can’t I get mobile Hulu?
The answer is simple: MONEY.
The economics of video are completely unfriendly to wide scale, cost-effective distribution. With revenue pressures from all of the producers and unions, and in mobile, revenue pressure from carriers, each piece of mobile video has tremendous pressure on it to monetize itself very well in order to support the proud parents that gave it birth. If you are a network, and have a significant nut to pay with every distribution, you are sure to be careful to only share your precious content with those who can pay dearly. And, that, my friends is the issue.
In the offline world, over cable and broadcast networks, there is the opportunity to monetize your content through subscription (very small base with premium content), through utility bundling (Lifetime, Oxygen and myriad other channels wouldn’t exist except for the magic of the “Digital” tier of cable subscriptions) or through advertising, or some combination of the three. In the mobile world, the initial idea is to monetize the video through subscription. This isn’t a bad idea, until the end consumer realizes that they typically get the content for free at home. Then that $9.99 charge for Sprint TV, or Media Flo, really starts to stick in one’s craw. (As a point of interest, I do understand that the vast majority of Americans use some kind of subscription based (cable or satellite) television service, and thereby are paying a fee for the content. BUT, the ubiquity of cable/satellite is so great that it has become a utility (like gas or electric service) and it provides a better end-user experience than the free (over the air broadcast) alternative.) So, mobile video has backed itself into a corner. It is generally seeking a premium subscription (although mobile plans like Sprint’s Everything Plan are making a bid to utility-ize mobile video) for content that is either received for free or perceived to be received as free. And to top it all off, the user experience is dramatically worse than cable/satellite or OTA broadcast.
So, what is one to do with the promise of mobile video? After all, it makes PERFECT sense. We are a nation of television junkies, You Tube addicts, and we lust after passive entertainment. So, why isn’t a little video on the handset a complete slam dunk? Well, essentially because the screen size is so small that engaging with video on a handset requires active concentration. It is no longer a passive or engrossing experience. But to top it off, it is really expensive for the consumer. So it has all sorts of pressures against it…but it simply won’t die.
So, sports fans, how do we make it better? Here are my 5 ideas:
- Kill the subscription fees: These are an unneeded obstacle. Sub fees deter adoption unless those sub fees give the end user a better experience. The wireless carriers and content owners need to hook up with the cable/satellite providers and bundle the mobile video fee into their current subscriptions. Comcast, Time Warner, ATT…all you guys, get together, figure out a rev share (share ad inventory across all three screens) and make your content ubiquitous.
- Make the service better: These are technical issues that are difficult to solve, and will require big 3G/4G investments, but make the delivery of mobile video easier. There are a few handsets and a few technologies that really do this well, but on your typical feature phone, mobile video is a slow, pixelated mess. Fix the service. You’ve made billions of dollars in investments to make a voice network that isn’t awful, perhaps we could get an infrastructure worthy of carrying the video content you want to sell me a subscription for.
- Standardize the ad format: Listen, this works for TV. Make all the ads 0:15 or 0:30 seconds. Run them at the same points in the shows. If broadcast, we already know the schedule. If unicast or VOD, make them at the beginning, middle and end. This is a familiar enough pattern. Stop trying to be inventive, and simply give me ads that I can actively ignore but subconsciously react to…just like on TV.
- Make the content worthwhile: If you can’t give me The Tudors or at least Scrubs then don’t bother. If no one will watch it regularly on television or online, the chances are slim that someone will want to watch it on a handset. Let’s face it, we are addicted to video, but we aren’t completely without standards.
- Keep track of my service: Let me bookmark where I stop on my handset, and let me pick it up again on my PC, or come back to it later, or make that show available via VOD on my TV. Listen up mobile carriers, since your network isn’t perfect, cut a deal to let me have my content via my PC, too, so that I can start watching a great mobisode, or highlight clip or something and when my signal drops (as it invariably will) I can recover my entertainment investment through a more perfected network device (my PC or TV).
That’s it. Make it free, better and ubiquitous (or at least hide the price somewhere else so it feels free) and mobile video will really start to make us all money.
End of rant.