Getting Ready for Primetime: 2006 Mobile Video Year in Review

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With the birth of each new medium, its purveyors look to the media that came before them for direction. The first radio announcers simply read the newspaper on the air rather than writing their own copy. Early television was referred to as "radio with pictures." Websites prior to "Web 2.0" were laid out like a magazine or newspaper. Mobile video is no different.

The major wireless carriers are now looking to mobile video and other entertainment services to help them recoup billions of dollars they invested in their 3G networks. Over the last year they have repeatedly touted how quickly mobile video usage is growing, yet have been infamously tight-lipped about providing specific numbers to back up their claims.

Carriers and mobile device manufacturers may have made mobile video ready for "primetime" from a technical point of view, but 2006 may be more accurately remembered as mobile video’s "pilot season," filled with countless business models and programming experiments.

Multi-Purpose Mobile Devices
Apple’s introduction of the video iPod in fall 2005 raised consumer awareness about high-quality video on the go and the morphing of mobile devices. One million video downloads were sold within 20 days of its introduction, and 15 million devices were sold within the first 6 months.

Despite the positive sales numbers of the video iPod, research from Nielsen this past fall tells a different story. Of the 400 participants monitored throughout the month of October, only 15.8% played a video on their iPod or online at iTunes. Less than 1% of all the content consumed using an iPod or iTunes was video. Even among those who owned a video iPod, there was only a marginal increase to 2.2%. It seems like it will take some time before the iPod sheds its "audio" identity.

As iPod moved into the video space, cell carriers challenged Apple’s dominance in the music player market by aggressively marketing their own music services. Most notable was Verizon’s new Chocolate phone by LG, bearing a similar design to the iPod.

Microsoft also laid down the gauntlet against iPod with the introduction of Zune. Critics have been unimpressed with Microsoft’s answer to the iPod, but its wireless connection will no doubt allow it to evolve beyond just a storage and playback device. For example, Zune’s "DJ setting" allows a user to share their library of music with other Zune users in the same vicinity.

Cell phones may morph into music players for some, but for others it’s becoming a mobile remote control for television. People can now truly watch television "everywhere" with SlingPlayer Mobile. SlingBox owners can purchase the application for just $29 to view their home television programming from any Windows Mobile-capable cell phone or PDA device.

Not only did mobile devices become more "television-like," but they began to bear a truer resemblance to PCs as well. After years of resistance, Palm did the unthinkable, introducing the Treo 700w powered by Microsoft Windows. Palm faithful regard the Microsoft OS as clunky compared with the Palm OS, but there are just as many who welcome the seamless integration of Microsoft programs between their computer and smartphone.

Just as Palm bowed to pressure from the corporate PC crowd, BlackBerry decided to show it wasn’t all about work with the introduction of its new BlackBerry Pearl, which has several new multimedia features like a camera and a music/video player.

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