Is Mobile Video Ready for Primetime?

Twice a week this month, Digiday has examined ways of “Improving Web Video.” We’ve covered both challenges and opportunities in online video and highlight brands and publishers getting it right. The series was made possible through the sponsorship of Vizu.

Too soon to declare the Year of Mobile Video?

The stats are certainly impressive: 33.5 million mobile phone owners watched video on their devices during the fourth quarter of 2011, according to Nielsen, representing a 35.7 percent increase over the same period in 2010.

And yet, there are the inevitable challenges for a market as new as mobile video. Forget about saying it’s in the first inning; the market’s still in the locker room getting its uniform on.

The biggest issue is that marketers don’t have a ton of mobile-ready video content. The smaller form factor of phones — leave aside tablets from this discussion for a moment — means that some TV creative works, but some simply doesn’t.

It’s also unclear if users will ever really be receptive to marketers’ video content on their phones, owing largely to their utility-driven nature. Smartphone users are in a different frame of mind than those consuming video on desktop laptops, and even tablets. As a result, things like pre-roll ads work differently.

“People are viewing short snippets on mobile devices, not 10-minute videos. They’re snacking,” said Dirk Rients, management director of mobile at Draftfcb. “I hate to say it, but when it comes to ads, I don’t think people are going to sit through a pre-roll for a one two-minute video.”

Then there’s the issue of scale. Though the number of users accessing mobile video continues to grow, it remains a relatively small audience, and YouTube accounts for a large portion of that consumption. Technology is a hurdle, too. Network speeds are increasing, but downloading any more than a couple of minutes of video content can be slow.

“I just don’t think we’re really there yet with the technology. As the networks get faster and the experience gets better, we may see more consumption,” Rients said.

Sound familiar? Rewind about four years, and pretty much the exact same things were being said about online video, which is one of the fastest growing segments of Internet advertising today. Mobile video will get there, but it will take some time and growing pains.

That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities now. According to Rients, a mobile video component can add value to a campaign with features such as exclusive or behind-the-scenes content. If the content is unavailable elsewhere, then users are more likely to interact with it, he suggested.

Draftfcb, for example, worked with Taco Bell to include exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from the restaurant’s TV ads, as well as content regarding its products into its apps and mobile Web presence. It’s also helping its automotive clients reach users when they’re out at showrooms hunting for cars.

“There are certain verticals that lend themselves well to mobile video. I think quick-service restaurants work, and automotive is another one. It’s tough to highlight all the features of a car on mobile, but a 30- or 60-second video does a good job.”

But ultimately, it remains a relatively nascent space, he suggested. Until the technology progresses and marketers gain a better understanding of how users want to consume video content from their mobile devices, it’ll remain but an afterthought for most brands.

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