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The State of Mobile Video 2015

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Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service, or MBMS, is a point-to-multipoint content delivery technology. In development for several years and recently made more viable within the AWS spectrum being used on LTE networks, MBMS offers hope for multicasting broadly viewed content such as a national or even international sporting event or breaking news.

Verizon has led the charge among mobile operators in the United States, making headlines at the beginning of 2014 by using evolved MBMS (eMBMS) to broadcast the Super Bowl across its LTE network. In July, Verizon announced that it would officially launch multicast video on its LTE network in 2015.

In 2015, more operators will experiment with some form of MBMS to multicast across mobile devices, with live events being the most popular use case. While the technology is still evolving and may be replaced with something better before it sees widespread adoption, the fact remains that a terrestrial-style broadcast model for mobile devices is becoming closer to a reality in 2015.

On the mobile browser front, another trend is emerging. Since most mobile OS browsers support modern web video technologies such as HTML, the type of mobile OS utilized becomes less important at least for non-encrypted content. Yet while proprietary streaming services—for instance, Netflix, which currently cannot be used within a mobile browser—are currently stuck with an app-only delivery approach, a number of mobile rights management and encryption technologies are finding their way into the humble browser.

Still, Nielsen revealed that smartphone owners spend 86 percent of their time using apps, compared to 14 percent accessing content through the mobile web browser.

What’s Next

From these statistics, we can make some reasonable predictions for 2015. First, MBMS and similar point-to-multipoint broadcast technologies will continue to be tested by both content providers and mobile operators, with the goal being to find a sweet spot in delivery cost and scalability. Verizon will be pushing the limits of its LTE network when it launches its own mobile video service this year, but we’re not likely to see a full-scale rollout by multiple players in 2015, since this is a game in which only high rollers can play.

In other words, in 2015, we probably won’t see a “TV” app on your phone that can switch through channels the way your home set does, and maybe not ever if the app approach mentioned at the top of this article continues unabated.

Second, as we touch on in the State of the Enterprise article, it could even be that MBMS and multicast derivatives are abandoned entirely, replaced by peer-to-peer or other hybrid solutions.

The Motorola Nexus 6 beats the iPhone 6+ in terms of screen size, offering a 6" display and begging the question “How big can a phone get and still be called a phone?” 

Third, as content creators and providers each create their own “walled garden” apps, consumers will run out of both screen real estate and expendable income for multiple subscriptions. In the end, to keep their mobile devices manageable and their pockets at least partially full, we predict that consumers will trend toward paying for just a few services from well-known content providers. What’s less certain is whether these paid services will tip more towards those with the largest variety (Netflix and Amazon) or those with the must-see programming (HBO and major-league sports apps). Regardless of the outcome of the app war, video search tools will gain more relevance as available content begins to grow at exponential rates.

Fourth, the smartphone wars will continue as they have for years. Google and Apple will continue to dominate while Microsoft and RIM fade into the distance. Any new app development or updates will be concentrated on the top two operating systems. If a new competitor makes a blip on the radar, it will be irrelevant throughout 2015.

Finally, if promises of cheaper 4K televisions continue—as they likely will—consumers will grow more used to the idea of viewing 4K content in 2015. This will lead to the natural succession of mobile content moving from 1080p, which is the current baseline standard on phablets, to 4K content viewing demand for mobile devices. Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 810 already enables 4K processing for mobile devices, and we expect it will add the ability to localcast to second screens in 2015 as early as March at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona.

Whether or not it actually appears any clearer than 1080p on a screen of 6" or less will be up for debate, yet those mobile devices capable of capturing 4K content will be expected to play back the content at equal quality. Or it could be that 4K on mobile becomes the latest dud, with a shelf life similar to HDTV’s ill-fated attempt at 3D monitors.

As we leave 2014 behind, and anticipate new delivery technologies, including cellular multiplexing for traditional webcast delivery from the field, it’s safe to say that mobile consumption will continue to rise. While it might not outpace laptop and desktop online video consumption in the next year, the end of 2015 should set the stage for 2016’s tipping point into mobile delivery that equals that of content delivered to the desktop, the laptop, and even the set-top box. In fact, one might even wade far enough into the prediction swamp to envision a time that all large-event live over-the-top (OTT) content will be delivered via mobile networks to further blur the line between what’s mobile and what’s traditional over-the-air television.

This article appears in the 2015 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook as The State of Mobile Video.

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