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The State of Mobile Video 2012

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This article appears in the February/March 2012 issue of Streaming Media magazine, our annual Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook.

Small now, but poised for explosive growth. That's the state of mobile video at the start of 2012.

"In North America, real-time entertainment accounts for 30.8% of aggregate traffic during the peak period, while in Asia-Pacific ... it is 41.4%," says Dan Deeth. He is a marketing analyst with Sandvine, Inc. ULC (), a maker of network management solutions and co-author of that company's "Fall 2011 Global Internet Phenomena Report." "These numbers do not account for ‘home roaming,' where a mobile device is being used on a Wi-Fi network," Deeth adds. "As an example, we have observed that 3% of Netflix and 10% of YouTube traffic on fixed access networks in the U.S. comes from smartphones and tablets."

These numbers sound impressive, until you put mobile video consumption in context. "In terms of total video streams served, it's small-under 5%," says Paul A. Palumbo, research director at AccuStream Research. "If you include Wi-Fi in the mix, and video that is going to mobile devices connected to broadband networks, or wireline networks, then it's about 13% as mature as online."

As for the future, Sandvine projects incrediblegrowth for real-time entertainment mobile video. In the U.S., for instance, Sandvine says that realtime entertainment mobile video will grow in share from 38.4% in 2012 to 69.4% by 2016-making mobile video the dominant application in just 4 short years.But this is only half of the story: Sandvine predicts that the amount of mobile video consumed will grow from 33.8 exabytes per year in 2012 to 82.1 exabytes per year in 2016. For the record, an exabyte is 1 billion gigabytes, or 1 quintillion bytes.

That's a lot of bytes. We're talking about the number 1 followed by 18 zeros.

Mobile Video Growth Drivers

If Sandvine is right, mobile video consumption in the U.S. will more than double between 2012 and 2016. This begs a very big question: What will be driving this growth?

Tablets, replies Robert Lipps, executive vice president of Sonic Foundry, Inc., maker of the Mediasite streaming video appliance.

"In the past, it was difficult to watch mobile video on smartphones, because the viewing area was so small," Lipps says. "However, the growth of tablets like the iPad and their ability to connect to the wireless web have changed the game. All of a sudden, people are carrying wireless devices with displays big enough to enjoy watching video wherever you are."

This game change is not just occurring in the consumer market. "Businesses are also adopting tablets for enterprise applications," says Lipps. "We use them here at Sonic Foundry for presentations out of the office. Tablets are ideally suited to portable multimedia; they are a great selling tool, and a format that is much more user-friendly than laptops."

However, tablets are just part of the mix. Increases in wireless data rates are also making mobile video much easier to watch, as the days of video stuttering and download delays fade into the past. Looking ahead, "The expansion of LTE [Long Term Evolution] in particular will be a driver of mobile video," says Sandvine's Deeth. "If the capacity is provided, subscribers will find a way to take advantage of the faster speeds.

"Live video is also going to be huge, especially for events like news and sports where viewing it as it happens is important," he adds. "The MLB, NFL, NHL, and NCAA have all provided sports fans with the ability to watch games wherever they are, while news organizations like Bloomberg and CNN have done the same for news junkies. ... Additionally, the growth of mobile apps that provide the ability to seamlessly resume a Netflix video or watch a live baseball game anywhere has shifted viewing that was previously only done on fixed networks at home onto mobile devices using mobile networks."

It's worth noting that 2012 is the year of the Summer Olympics. Deeth expects this event to be a boon for mobile video providers.

Obstacles to Mobile Video Growth

To summarize, "Mobile will continue to account for an increasing percentage of daily screen time for consumers," says Ashley Streb, vice president of technology for Brightcove, Inc., which provides mobile video solutions and support. "Tablets
will lead the way in terms of video viewing time."

So will these two trends bring about a more mature, standardized mobile video landscape? Don't bet on it. "Platform fragmentation will frustrate all attempts to drive unified standards for formats, protocols, and monetization technologies," Streb says.

"Content, delivery, advertising, integrated media platforms/management systems, adaptive bit rate streaming ... all the pieces are in place," says AccuStream Research's Palumbo. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for operating systems, which "come down to iOS and Android (Flash) wrangling,'" he says.

Ironically, it is mobile video's success that has set back standardization, even on an informal basis. "In the old days, Adobe Flash was all you needed to deliver video to any viewer," Brightcove's Streb notes. "But thanks to the introduction of the iPad and the emergence of HTML5 video, mobile video consumption has skyrocketed in recent years. These devices brought HTML5 video front and center for many media publishers and created a landscape of viewers that are now accessing video content across both Flash and HTML5-compatible devices."

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