Outside of social platforms, people are more likely to watch mobile video on the web versus apps — and publishers are adapting.

Video viewership inside mobile apps has been going down for several years now, according to video tech firm JW Player. In the last 10 months of 2016, the share of mobile video viewing occurring inside apps declined to 5 percent from 8 percent, according to a sample of 500,000 websites within JW Player’s network. The company expects the trend to continue in 2017 as fewer publishers invest time and money on video apps. That remains the domain of TV broadcasters, big publishers and pure video companies like HBO, Reuters and Fullscreen.

“If you take a step back to where we were in 2010, there was a massive shift to building native apps,” said Dave Otten, CEO of JW Player. “Facebook had heavily invested in HTML5, so as a result, all of these media companies — no matter what their business was — began investing in building native apps for iOS and Android. Since then, there have been a small number of big winners. People use five to six apps per day; everyone else gets almost no play. For media companies that invested so much money in building apps, the return has been fairly limited.”

App development and maintenance does not come cheap. Frank Sinton, CEO of video app and ad technology company Beachfront Media, estimates the cost to build and maintain a video app to run at least $500,000 a year for most companies. This includes hiring app developers and costs associated with video hosting, monetization, other app-related maintenance and updates and other technological requirements. “There are cheaper options, but then you severely sacrifice user experience,” he said.

That’s OK for the big media companies that can afford that and have the brand recognition among consumers. It’s why Bloomberg Media can say its mobile future lays with apps and Reuters can have 125 people working on its Reuters TV streaming service.

Many publishers rely on Facebook for reach, but still want to get viewers to watch video on their own sites. The good news for them is, mobile devices are getting better and faster. “Today, your phone has the equivalent computing power of a laptop in 2010,” Otten said.

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That’s why, outside of the media giants, there aren’t many digital publishers investing in mobile video apps. Refinery29, for instance, has one app, This AM, which converts the top eight stories of the day into text cards that users can read and swipe through.

“In 2016, comScore reported that half of US smartphone users are downloading zero apps per month. This decline speaks to both mobile app fatigue and the consolidation of mobile attention is now happening within a few apps,” said Frank Conway, vp of product at Refinery29. “That being said, we haven’t ruled out a dedicated mobile video app. If an audience need emerges, that’s not being fulfilled by our site, our social channels or our platform partnerships, an app may be the best solution.”

Feel-good publisher LittleThings, meanwhile, has video inside its mobile app, but the video is often embedded inside articles. Nearly 85 percent of video consumption on LittleThings’ platforms takes place on its mobile website.

“Our audience is used to going to social apps — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — to find and consume our content,” said Justin Festa, evp of digital at LittleThings. “It takes a tremendous amount of effort to get users to stop going to these platforms, and then get them to download an app. It’s been a lot better to focus on the way our users want to consume content, which right now is through social platforms and coming directly to our site on the mobile web.”

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