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The State of Mobile Video 2015

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From new delivery technology to higher-resolution screens, the world of mobile video delivery changed forever in 2014. In the process, companies such as Apple and Samsung have left us confused over whether we’re consuming more on smartphones, tablets, or something in between.

Rise of the Phablet

While Samsung and a few other Asian handset and tablet makers have been championing the use of a single device that inhabits the middle ground between smartphones and tablets, it took Apple several years to get on the “more is more” bandwagon.

With the iPhone 6 and 6+ coming to market in late 2014, Apple pushed into the territory of 1080p viewing as a baseline resolution for mobile handsets. The use of the phablet, which often requires two hands and fits more comfortably in a jacket pocket than it does in a jeans pocket, meant that handset manufacturers could design video playback environments with the visual acuity of a 42" or larger HDTV.

Mobile video consumption in all its forms continues to rise dramatically. Ericsson projects that video will make up 50 percent of all mobile data traffic by 2019, versus approximately 40 percent in 2013. After factoring in the overall growth in mobile data, that means the mobile video market will be 13 times larger in 2019 than it was in 2013.

On the OS front, the story depends on whether you land in the Android or iOS camp. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground between these two systems, and as we’ll see below, there’s not much room for competition in the OS market as we enter 2015.

While Google and Apple continue to run neck-and-neck in the U.S. for the No. 1 spot on the list of devices sold, the story outside of North America is quite different.

As of Q3 2014, the Android operating system used to run almost all Android phones continues to dominate the global mobile OS market with 84.4 percent of devices sold, according to IDC. Apple’s iOS is a distant second at 11.7 percent, while Windows Phone, BlackBerry OS, and other operating systems make up a mere 4 percent combined.

Among mobile operating systems in the U.S., Google’s Android leads Apple’s iOS by a margin of 53.8% to 41.5%, with Windows, BlackBerry, and others making up only about 5% of the total. Worldwide, Android is even more dominant, accounting for almost 85% of devices sold. 

When it comes to total active devices, though, Google’s mobile OS leads Apple by a smaller margin in the U.S. According to Kantar, as of October 2014, 53.8 percent use Android, while 41.5 percent use iOS, leaving other device OSes with only about 5 percent of the total userbase.

Yet even as big as the screens have grown, the rate of content growth is even bigger.

He Who Finishes With the Most Apps Loses

The overwhelming amount of content is becoming an unwieldy mess. More and more content is being made exclusively for tablet and phablet consumption, although some estimates place laptop and desktop viewing patterns at an overall 77 percent for viewers’ preferred device types.

One reason it’s harder to wade through all this premium content is the fact that content creators and providers each have their own proprietary apps and services. Netflix, Amazon, Google Play, HBO, Comcast Xfinity, and Showtime are a few of the several providers vying for consumers’ monthly subscription fees, and content available on each of these services is often only available on one premium service at a time. The use of an app to replace a television channel can easily be extrapolated; we’ve already heard HBO announce that it plans to pare off all its content into a subscription-based streaming service in 2015, meaning millions more users will have the HBO GO app on a mobile device of their choice.

But in most cases, content can only be searched within the app itself, leading to unnecessary and time-consuming opening and closing apps to see if a particular piece of content is available. While discovery of relevant content isn’t easy, third-party service providers are beginning to address the issue, with each providing a website or app that attempts to curate the wild world of app-based premium video content.

Streaming video search engines and apps—such as Filmgrail, Rovi, or Can I Stream It—offer a user the chance to type in the name of a film, movie, episodic series, or—in some instances—a sporting event, and receive back details on how many (or how few) streaming services the particular piece of premium content is available for viewing.

Ads, Ads, Ads

Pre-roll, mid-roll, post-roll, dinner roll? What works, and which ones make viewers click away instead of waiting for their content?

Testing shows that too many pre-roll ads annoy customers. While pre-roll may seem the best placement for the advertiser, it’s also the placement point at which advertising can be most easily ignored by the viewer. Post-roll ads have pretty much been abandoned, with the exception of those clever “subscribe” requests on some of YouTube’s better-known channels.

To hold viewer attention, nontraditional or viral ads continue to be most effective, as they tend to stick better in consumers’ minds and generally leave a better impression of the sponsor’s product or service. Nothing spreads more effectively than word-of-mouth or social network sharing. But what if viewers just won’t sit through the ad?

While Android devices dominate in terms of usage, Apple’s latest iPhones got most of the media attention. With its 5.5" screen, the iPhone 6+ marked Apple’s first entry into the “phablet” category. 

It would be wise for video advertisers to take a cue from podcast advertisers. Some of the most popular podcasts online today use great creativity when recording their ads and credits. This American Life listeners will sit through the entire credits and sponsor ads at the end of the program just to hear what quote from the show would be taken out of context and used to embarrass Torey Malatia.

There’s also always a different reader in an unusual location recording ads for Radiolab’s sponsors, and even tech companies have risen to the occasion: An ad for MailChimp at the beginning of the Serial podcast has taken on a life of its own, getting its own remix and high customer retention states. If video can translate some of these audio-only podcast advertising ideas into memorable video ads, engagement and acceptance will increase compared to traditional ads.

Talking Tech

Two big technology areas emerged into their own in 2014: MBMS and HTML5.

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