FORGET MOBILE TV: other options exist

Market research suggests the typical mobile subscriber has an attention span that averages just 90 seconds. That’s not long enough to get stuck into an episode of ‘Lost’, but John Orlando reckons there are other opportunities for video on the mobile…

As technophiles circle their digital wagons around mobile TV, operators, content providers and technology partners are forgetting this critical question: How much video can a consumer really take on a one-inch screen?

If mobile TV is the messiah of ARPU, then how exactly should operators offer content that is usable, compelling and appropriate? If we zoom out from the mobile TV huddle, it appears the only sure-fire ARPU booster will be to offer snippets of video as part of a larger mosaic of highly targeted and customisable opt-in services.

Operators have a number of choices in delivering mobile video to subscribers – from downloadable clips, to live video streaming, to peer-to-peer applications such as push-to-video and video messaging.

While it appears there is a small market for streaming content, the one-size-fits-all approach will prove less compelling over time. After all, at approximately £15 per month, consumers will want more choice in programmes and length.

Furthermore, networks are currently optimised for peer-to-peer communication, so it stands to reason that operators should whet their subscribers’ appetites for video sharing.
However, focusing too closely on IPTV ignores the basic lifestyle and usage premise that underlines handset technology. For example, the market has demonstrated that there is little demand for full Internet browsing capabilities on mobile phones. This is as much a limitation of keypad and screen size as it is about user experience.

What they want
With short attention spans, why should operators expect a consumer to download the latest episode of ‘Lost’ on the way to school? Even with new technologies such as DVB-H, an inch of screen would be difficult to deliver the enriched video experience that gadget gurus demand.

More likely, a consumer will spend five minutes checking voicemail, sending a text message, checking e-mail and still have time for a snippet of ‘Pop Idol’ – if they’re lucky.
That said, highly targeted content in compressed quantity stands the greatest chance of actually attracting and persuading users to purchase content. Rather than forcing long and standardised videos down consumers’ collective gullet, only the operators that allow users to create their own content environments can expect ARPU to increase.

User groups have demonstrated that mobile subscribers have an average attention span of 90 seconds. That’s hardly enough time for a commercial break (and let’s not even get started on how users will react when operators start dropping ads into their video!).

If we look at how to adapt mobile video to this type of audience, a number of plausible offerings emerge.

For example, small clips followed by some kind of user interaction could be compelling to subscribers. Deliver ‘Lost’ mobisodes and let fans determine which characters’ background they want to explore. Or partner with Channel 4 to license exclusive ‘Big Brother’ footage and have fans vote for their favourite.

If there’s anything TiVo and TV-to-DVD have taught us, it’s that consumers want control over their content. It’s not just about picking the best time to watch; it’s about managing content delivery, managing emotional response to the content, and fully participating in shared cultural impact.

As it stands, and for a precious few months going forward, operators have the unique opportunity to pierce needle-sharp under the market’s skin and suffuse consumers’ lifelines with the video they want and in doses they can handle.

Operators should also consider the potential threat that other mobile video technologies pose to mobile phones. For example, video over iPod has the advantage of a much larger screen size over the average mobile phone.

As soon as operators see video as a piece of the content-management puzzle, they will have a better chance of increasing revenue and reducing churn.

The question becomes: What, at £10-15 per month, do consumers want? And who are those consumers in the first place?

Speculation
Let’s take a moment to speculate. The folks who won’t mind paying the extra monthly fees are probably consumers that are on the move, and probably don’t pay a lot of attention to their bills. With a range of content to suit the desires of a more discriminating clientele, operators increase their chances of delivering exactly the programming consumers will return to-and with gusto.

Combining short bursts of video with data, music, voice, ringback and a host of other services, all accessible within a click, is by far the best way for operators to wield the mobile TV market in their favour.

By intuiting users’ habits based on current market data and common sense, operators have little to worry about when it comes to driving ARPU. Several technology providers stand – ready to power these new offerings.

If the “give-it-to-me-now” experience propels the mobile universe, then operators’ answer should be “By all means, and give it to them good.

John Orlando is Vice President of Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer at NMS Communications, a provider of technologies and solutions for mobile applications and infrastructure.

“An inch of screen cannot deliver the enriched video experience that gadget gurus demand…”