If Rio was Mobile-First, then Tokyo will be the Pre-positioned Olympics

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There’s no question that the Rio Olympics has been a streaming success, cementing mobile’s place as the first screen for video.

US TV ratings have declined 20% from London in 2012 but video streaming has boomed. Akamai delivered more video traffic in the first three days of Rio than during the entire 2012 London games.

Back in 2012, social mobile was massive but adoption of video was still nascent. Facebook’s famous mobile pivot had just begun. Snapchat Stories and Meerkat’s live streaming debut at SXSW were still more than two years away.

Now in 2016 mobile video is ascendant. The BBC Sport mobile app set a weekly record with 4.4m unique users, including 2.7m uniques in a single day. In China the Games are on mobile for the first time. 67 percent of Chinese viewers watched on their smartphones, even though state broadcaster CCTV imposes a 30-minute delay. Australian broadcaster Channel Seven smashed records, with 2.8m streams on the first day of competition.

Mobile video will continue its gold medal performance at Tokyo 2020

According to Cisco, 75% of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video in 2020, up from 50% today. If growth continues at this rate, the network infrastructure that delivers streaming over the Internet will be under pressure.

5G networks promising increased speeds and capacity are on the horizon, but the actual standards are still being written, and widespread rollout is not a sure-thing by mid-2020.

Broadcasters need mobile streaming strategies that deliver both an excellent user experience, and guarantee underlying ad revenue

One approach is smoothing peaks and troughs in network utilization by separating video delivery from consumption. However sports, like few other media properties (news and singing contests?) contain the bulk of their value in ‘live’. Content pre-positioning does have a role to play though.

Depending on the viewer’s timezone relative to Tokyo, it could make sense to pre-position highlight clips of the favorite team or particular sports according to user preferences. This can be done while the mobile is connected to WiFi, or pushed out over off-peak cellular networks. When fans wake up, their package of swimming or track finals is available in instant start-HD, free of any network delivery issues.

For the live events generating millions of concurrent streams, this isn’t an option, but intelligent delivery still has a place. Ad units for each live event can be delivered ahead of time. This allows them to be inserted in to the live stream as the primary ad unit, or as a backup if there are delivery issues with the streamed version. Guaranteed play out means maximum fill rates and no lost revenue opportunities.

Mobile world records will once again be set at Tokyo 2020 as audiences continue their migration from linear TV. Olympic broadcasters and rights-holders have time to plan pre-positioning strategies as both viewers and advertisers demand increasing quality and performance from their video experience.

Mark Adams is CEO of Incoming Media. We use high quality video and machine intelligence to enhance the value of mobile subscribers. If you’d like regular Gold Medal updates on the business of mobile, please like this post and follow me.

How Trading Doritos for Data is Transforming Mobile

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Imagine you had to choose between using Facebook and buying a packet of corn chips?

Such a choice might seem hard to imagine in affluent San Francisco or Sydney, but in emerging markets like India, opportunity costs are on an entirely different scale.

The Wall Street Journal noted yesterday: “Nestlé SA, Coca-Cola Co. and others selling consumer products to India’s 1.2 billion people say that as their poorest customers start spending on smartphone data, they have fewer pennies left over for snacks, sodas and shampoo.”

The WSJ does caution that “the evidence for this trend is largely circumstantial…data consumption is accelerating rapidly, while at the same time sales growth at some of India’s largest consumer companies has slipped to a two-year low”. The macro trends appear to support the argument.

India’s smartphone user base is now over 220m, second only to China, and ahead of the US. Adoption has been driven by intense price competition among the 150 brands of Android-powered devices on the market, with entry-level options available for under $100.

While smartphones are getting cheaper, data is still relatively costly, and most consumers pay as they go, rather than opt for monthly plans. So for many, casual browsing on a smartphone is not affordable unless some other discretionary spending is forgone.

Data costs real money for consumers, for a reason. Billions have been sunk into building out 3G and 4G networks. And operators require a return to make the economics work. At some point, the consumer runs out of wallet, and even in high-growth markets, ARPU peaks and starts to decline.

Operators are looking at alternative revenue sources to increase ARPU, and brands are looking at new ways to engage consumers. It’s easy to see brands and operators forming partnerships where subscriber attention is exchanged for subsidized data, text and calls.

Rolling out these type of programs should be done in a sensitive way. Brands can’t bombard subscribers with hundreds of ads, degrading the user experience. Facebook’s Free Basics initiative faced criticism for perceived restrictions on sites that could be accessed, and violations of net neutrality principles.

Other factors like privacy, device storage and power consumption need to be factored in to ensure that the value exchange doesn’t create issues for both operator and consumer.

Sophisticated techniques like pre-positioning video using off-peak network, and using behavioral signals from the phone to learn when to best engage the consumer will drive adoption across operators and brands.

Operators must develop new revenue streams as ARPU declines. This will drive a wave of innovation in mobile plans and consumer engagement, resulting in a better deal for emerging market consumers.

Mark Adams is CEO of Incoming Media. We use high quality video and machine intelligence to enhance the value of mobile subscribers. Like this and follow me for regular updates on the business of mobile. 

Closing the Gap: Smartphones vs TV

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What’s the difference between mobile and television?

About $22billion, at least where advertising budgets are concerned.

It’s known as the “Meeker Gap“, the difference between time audiences spend on mobile and the total dollars put against mobile ad campaigns. It’s a key data point from the Internet Trends Report over the last five years.

People spend 36% of their media time watching TV, so it receives 39% of the advertising spend. Fair enough. But people now spend 25% of their time on mobile, and it’s only getting 12% of the spend. And guess which audience is shrinking versus growing?

These numbers represent one of the greatest opportunities in media and technology right now. So why does this gap exist, and who are going to be the winners when mobile gets its fair share of marketing budget?

Firstly the gap exists because of fundamental issues with the delivery of mobile content. Quite often programmatic ads don’t execute in time, or there are delays due to network latency, or lost cellular coverage. Issues around attribution transparency, analytics and conversion of users have also been identified by marketers as challenges with mobile.

Overall digital is underweight in marketing spend and some of this money is actually flowing back to television. The 2016 Upfronts were a bumper year for the TV business, even as shrinking audiences are spread across an increasing volume of programming. But analysts still predict the long-term decline of TV ad revenues.

The beneficiaries of the mobile ad boom are Facebook, Google and recently Snapchat, a true 21st century media company. The mobile giants will continue to grow. But what about mobile operators and the hundreds of billions they spent over the last decade building out 3G, 4G and soon 5G networks, that allow the Internet majors to flourish?

With a media strategy with video at the center, operators can redirect some of that ad spend away from FB and Google. They have unparalleled first party data, the ability to zero-rate content, and can deploy intelligent content delivery to optimize their networks.

Solutions like Incoming’s artificial intelligence-based approach deliver smart ways of prepositioning video, and brand new contextual analytics. This is a whole new business model for operators as their subscribers turn into audiences, hungry for entertainment. New types of plans centered around premium content, app recommendations and value exchange will emerge as drivers of growth for operators.

Ad spend will continue to flow to mobile, television’s last gasp notwithstanding. But why should all those extra billions be siphoned off by Snapchat, Facebook, and Google? By capitalizing on escalating video consumption and a unique relationship with subscribers, mobile operators can make advertising a source of bottom line growth for years to come.

Mark Adams is CEO of Incoming Media, a startup creating new revenue models for mobile operators using smart video. Like this and follow me for regular updates on mobile, media and the video value chain.

AI drives the next level in mobile media engagement

At Incoming, we are leveraging advanced machine learning to drive the next level of mobile engagement with video. Using AI / ML to fix both personalization of mobile content and timing, and also predictively pre-positioning content to create compelling mobile user experiences.

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Incoming Media investor Intel Capital ranked no.1 AI investor

AI techniques are an enabler that promise to really drive mobile media into whole new levels of compelling engagement. Recommendation engines with basic machine learning were the first generation of personalization. AI enables a whole new level of continuously learning what each individual want next.

The ability to deeply understand what each user wants, how they interact with their mobile and to predict what users want next. AI enables the next level of continuous optimization of a personalized mobile relationship.

To learn more about Incoming Media’s solutions for mobile video, please contact us.

When Streaming Isn’t Enough: Push Video for Better Engagement

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You care deeply about quality user experience in your mobile video applications. It’s hard enough to get people to watch your content in the first place, let alone putting up with playback stuttering, stalling or buffering.

Bottom line: when a user presses “play”, you want stuff to happen, and happen fast.

Your Millennial audience in particular is an impatient bunch. Studies show that a delay between 500 milliseconds and five seconds results in abandonment. One click and their hard won attention goes elsewhere.

What’s standing in the way of instant mobile playback?

Cellular networks have their challenges when it comes to streaming video delivery. Too much data squeezed into limited spectrum (a.k.a. Shannon’s law for those information theory buffs.) Content caching points are on servers somewhere on the other side of the mobile network. The most optimized CDN strategy in the world can’t compensate for congestion at the local base station. 5G is on the horizon, but will be several years before it reaches a critical mass of users.

What can be done? Enter predictive prepositioning.

We’ve been thinking about a better mobile video experience for a number of years. Our solution is Push Video – preloading a video on to the user’s phone, before they know they want to watch it. It works like this:

  • Predictive algorithms select the content from the CMS
  • A piece of video is pre-loaded onto the phone
  • Delivery over Wifi or off-peak cellular
  • Behavioral analytics determine the best time to let the user know the content is there

This is deeply impactful to the quality of user experience. Videos instantly start in full HD. There’s no stalling or buffering, ever. You’re providing a TV-like experience on mobile, and coverage (WiFi or cellular) doesn’t matter.

The results we’ve seen when video owners try it have been impressive. It turns out pre-positioned content is a gateway to longer streaming sessions. If users’ first experience with your service is an instant-start, HD video, they’ll stick around for 3 times longer. That’s 3x more minutes viewed, and 3x more opportunities for monetization.

Push Video has applications for optimizing new mobile ad formats too. Ultra-short form units, e.g. 3 and 6 seconds, will work much better when they start instantly. It’s still possible to manage campaigns – just preload a day’s worth of ad units, and refresh every 24 hours. All prepositioned videos can be deleted each day, or per the ad network policy.

We’re not talking about replacing streaming. On-demand, live events, and rights issues all mean the bulk of video consumption will continue to be streamed. But a hybrid approach using Push Video for promos, ads, or even the first 3 minutes of a show, then streaming the rest, means a more engaged audience.

A high quality upfront experience means users stick around longer, are better able to be monetized, and are more likely to come back for more. And that’s a good outcome for your mobile video business.

This post is adapted from my “5 Minute Defense” presentation at the TV of Tomorrow in San Francisco on 6/07/2016. Thanks to Colin Dixon for the invitation!

Mark Adams is CEO of Incoming Media, a startup creating new revenue models for mobile operators. Like this and follow me for regular updates on mobile, media and the video value chain. 

Scouts to Snapchat: Ad Formats Evolve to Mobile

 

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Over half a century before American Idol and The Voice reinvented the singing competition, there was Arthur Godfrey’s Talent ScoutsA mix of variety, talk and comedy, Talent Scouts was broadcast on CBS from 1948-58 and was a ratings winner.

“Ratings” is a relative concept. Fewer than 100,000 US households had a television set in 1948. While a minuscule audience by today’s standards, advertisers clearly thought TV was a medium worth investing in. Talent Scout’smain sponsor was Lipton Tea, a long-time relationship carried over from Arthur Godfrey’s 2o years as a radio broadcaster.

Radio’s influence on early television is obvious. Godfrey sits at a desk behind a large announcer’s mic, and his on-camera presence is best described as “laid back”, especially compared with today’s TV hosts. This is unsurprising as networks were just beginning to comprehend the power of TV as a visual medium, rather than simply as radio with pictures.

As the number of TV households exploded to 52m by 1960, both programming and advertising became more sophisticated. New technologies were introduced, but adoption was sometimes uneven. The first color TV broadcast was in 1954, but it wasn’t until 1972 that the last black and white show went off-air.

We’re in a similar transition period today as advertisers grapple with digital and mobile channels alongside traditional television. The 30 and 60 second TV commercial is still for now the dominant video ad unit. Although digital ad spend will overtake TV next year, billions worth of airtime was pre-sold at the Upfronts last week.

Advertisers believe that nothing beats the impact and reach of a high-production value, widescreen TV commercial placed in a high-rating show. Watch the NBA playoffs this week and you’ll see the state-of-the-art in slick visual communication. Even Slack, a born-digital unicorn with no salespeople, is on air with a new commercial.

Because these spots cost millions to produce, brands reuse creative across digital channels like YouTube. Just like the first television ads were essentially radio on TV, digital ads are repurposed from the big screen. This works fine for PC and even tablet, but on mobile, it can be found wanting.

Progress is being made however. While there’s debate around the natural way to watch video on a mobile (horizontal or vertical), brands are beginning to experiment with the latter. Snapchat’s 100m+ daily active users are in the vertical camp, and the industry is taking note. Snapchat created a standard called 3V (vertical/video/views) and early adopter marketers like Intel, Universal Pictures and Hungry Jacks are embracing it.

Vertical video screenshots from Hungry Jack’s, the Aussie Burger King 👍🏼

While these efforts are nascent, it’s great to see the brands exploring what can be done with vertically-oriented video. Like the transition from radio to TV, creators begin by using the conventions of the previous format. With time and experience, a new set of standards develop for the medium, both creatively and technically. For example, shorter formats like 6 and 10 second spots could be optimized by pre-loading onto handsets instead of streaming.

Is vertical the future of mobile video? It has to be a a larger part of media budgets for 2016 and beyond. The average Snapchat user is on the platform for 30 minutes a day, and that won’t be the only place that makes sense for 3V. New implementations are emerging that make sense for vertical e.g. lock screens and wallpapers. Brands go where the audiences are, and vertical video is becoming part of the mainstream media landscape.

Mark Adams is CEO of Incoming Media, a startup increasing ARPU and engagement for mobile operators. Like this and follow me for regular updates on mobile, media and the video value chain