Growing consumer demand for mobile video continues to drive traffic across mobile networks, with no slow down in sight
In the not so distant past, mobile video was a precious and expensive commodity. But by 2020, Cisco reports video will account for more than 75% of the world’s mobile data traffic, up 20% from 2015 – the highest growth rate of all other mobile applications. Consumer behavior is changing and dictating the direction of the market. With the proliferation of mobile devices, watching TV on the go has become the new normal, eclipsing all other mediums for watching content.
It’s clear that the future is now. As mobile operators prepare their networks for the rapid growth of streaming video, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing the numerous myths surrounding mobile video. Let’s take a look at the top seven mobile video myths and explore the reality behind each one.
Myth No. 1: The majority of video content on mobile is short-form
The reality: Thirty-six percent of consumers use their phones at least daily to watch video that’s five minutes or longer – a number that is poised to grow as screens get bigger and networks get faster. Young consumers, who typically consume the most online video, are not as concerned with how streaming video gets to them – just as long as the streams arrive in high definition. As a result, mobile networks are rapidly becoming like fixed-line networks, with more long-form content and more mobile-specific services like Periscope, Snapchat and Facebook that promote live streaming.
Myth No. 2: Consumers don’t watch that much video on their mobile devices
The reality: Today’s mobile video landscape dictates that consumers can now watch anything from a 10 second Snapchat to a feature-length movie all from one device. As of 2015, eMarketer noted the average U.S. adult devotes 76 minutes daily to viewing video on digital gadgets (PCs, mobile phones, game consoles and other devices) – a huge leap from 21-minute average viewing time in 2011.
Mobile video is one of the major factors driving this trend. Autoplay features on popular sites and apps such as Facebook and Yahoo ensure videos start playing instantaneously and audiences are consuming streaming content without even having to make a decision to click the play button on the screen.
Myth No. 3: Mobile network architectures can be ‘streaming agnostic’
The reality: The streaming industry has transformed to a point where all content – mobile or fixed broadband – must be inside the network for best results. With the rise of online video streaming, one common denominator mobile operators must consider across both short- and long-form content is latency, which lead to excessive buffering and affect the overall quality of experience for all viewers. This is even more important with mobile networks, where LTE gives viewers the impression they can easily watch an HD video at 1080p until backhaul, which is not scaled in the same way, comes into play and creates a bottleneck in the content delivery process.
In order to fix latency and bottleneck issues, operators need to embrace an architecture that moves content closer to the consumer. This means a change in how the network is built – an evolution being enabled by the rise of mobile edge computing, “5G” technology and cloud radio access network solutions.
Myth No. 4: Traditional TV is still the first screen
The reality: Mobile has taken over as the first screen for many consumers. In 2014, for the first time ever, U.S. adults spent more time on mobile devices than they did on PCs, and that gap only continues to widen. While mobile used to be slow and clunky, it now has a higher reach than most traditional TV platforms, effectively demonstrating that consumers expect to be able to stream video content not only from the confines of their couch, but anywhere and on anything. As mobile technology becomes ubiquitous worldwide, these numbers can only grow.
Myth No. 5: Netflix is king of content for all platforms, including mobile
The reality: Snapchat is the Netflix of mobile. There is no question Netflix dominates fixed-line networks. However, the same principle is not always true in mobile. Despite the fact many Netflix subscribers consume their content from a tablet (which is considered a mobile device), Netflix doesn’t even appear in the top three mobile video sources for consumers. This is largely due to the typically shorter attention spans of consumers while on mobile devices. People will often glance at their phones quickly between meetings or during a commute on public transportation. This means watching a few Snapchat videos from friends is a lot more manageable than a 30-minute TV show on Netflix.
While long-form content on mobile is continuing to grow and evolve, a new short form will also begin to emerge over the next few years. Due to the quick user interfaces of apps such as Snapchat, consumers now expect to have the same instant, seamless experience with other mobile streaming services – making even the industry pioneers like YouTube “old school” when it comes to streaming video.
Myth No. 6: I say live streaming, you say NFL
The reality: When consumers are asked about live streaming, most will point immediately to the Super Bowl, a Major League Baseball game or popular awards show. The fact is live streaming stretches far beyond traditional sporting events – as proven by the growing popularity of live video platforms like Twitch, Periscope and Snapchat to broadcast video games and even the most ordinary of day-to-day activities. In fact, Twitch users watched a staggering 460,000 years worth of streaming content in 2015. Mobile video is constantly changing and is only going to get more competitive as more nontraditional video platforms emerge.
Myth No. 7: Streaming video consumes too much data on mobile devices
The reality: Going over data limits on cellphone plans was a legitimate concern in the past and still plagues consumers to some extent. However, live video is dominating the digital industry and forcing mobile operators to think beyond what used to be possible and along with popular content providers have realized they need to work together to remain innovative by joining industry consortiums such as the Streaming Video Alliance. As a result of this evolution, many mobile operators now not only promote the use of video, but are actually finding new ways to encourage consumers in streaming content indefinitely, such as T-Mobile US’ “Binge On” plan, where subscribers can binge watch their favorite shows on their phone without accruing additional data charges.
Looking into the mobile world of the future
Back in the “old days” (aka the 90s) you bought a mobile phone and it was simply that: it had a hardware design, keypad and other basic functions meant to allow consumers to call their colleagues and loved ones. Fast forward 15 years, and virtually everyone carries what essentially amounts to a personal virtualized programmable network that is more defined by the apps downloaded and less by the commodity hardware it runs on. Virtualization has also taken on an entirely new meaning as virtual apps in the mobile network that didn’t exist before continue to emerge.
Mobile video has grown faster and bigger than expected in every dimension and the industry has moved beyond what used to be possible. The reality is many people, including mobile operators, are still living with the mindset of the “old days” when it comes to streaming video – and a drastic change is needed if they want to adapt and innovate beyond what they ever thought was possible. The time to embrace the future of mobile video is now.
Editor’s Note: The RCR Wireless News Reality Check section is where C-level executives and advisory firms from across the mobile industry share unique insights and experiences.