Longtime VideoNuze readers will recall that nearly 7 years ago I started espousing the benefits of being able to download long-form video to mobile devices, so consumption could continue when offline or when only spotty or expensive wireless connections were available.
TiVo pioneered this capability with its Stream device, which initially let users download programming from their TiVo to an iOS device. As a user, this presented the valuable benefit of unlocking all my recorded content to watch on my iPad or iPhone wherever I was (planes, trains, etc).
Over the years a variety of SVOD providers have enabled downloading; Amazon was an early adopter and Netflix a reluctant, but ultimately innovative, adopter. Others like HBO Now, Showtime, Starz, CBS All Access, CuriosityStream and Crunchyroll all now allow viewers to download and watch offline. At the recent launch event for Disney+, company CEO Bob Iger said everything in the service will be downloadable (which is going to make long car trips with kids far more pleasurable!). I’m assuming downloading will be a staple of Apple TV+ too.
Advertising in mobile video is an important revenue stream for many content providers, so understanding how to optimize the viewer experience is essential.
At the 9th annual Video Advertising Summit on May 29th, mobile video advertising was the subject of a panel including Henry Embelton (Head of Ad Products and Revenue, Ellation), Dan Hurwitz (Chief Revenue Officer, Penthera), Bobby LaCivita (VP of Research and Measurement, Group Nine Media), and Colin Dixon (Founder and Principal Analyst, nScreenMedia) moderating.
Among the topics discussed were mobile video distribution in social vs. owned and operated properties, which video ad units work best in mobile video, how offline ad-supported mobile video experiences are being enabled, how mobile drives video consumption for younger audiences and key challenges in mobile video given the fragmentation across many different apps/services.
As OTT audiences demonstrate an increased appetite for video streaming, some providers are updating their download options, while others are facing questions about their lack of the capability. With enthusiasm and expectations high, it’s vital for providers to ensure a high-quality experience. But, as more providers add mobile video download capabilities, there’s one issue that remains challenging for many streaming services: licensing restrictions.
It’s in the script for every OTT service with an app for phones and tablets: “your favorite shows are now available anytime, anywhere!” It’s in the script because marketers know that “available anytime, anywhere” is what audiences want. Their impulse to make this promise is the right one, and it may induce an initial consumer engagement. But failing to deliver on that promise will quickly frustrate users and potentially increase churn. Saying it does not make it reality.
I’m pleased to present the 432nd edition of the VideoNuze podcast, with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Colin is eating some crow on this week’s podcast, because he’s finally (!) come around to understanding the value of video downloading, which I’ve been promoting for nearly 6 years. Colin has a new white paper out in which he cites his research finding 55% of U.S. and 58% of U.K. viewers saying downloading functionality is very important to them. We discuss all aspects of downloading’s value proposition.
Then we segue to talking about Verizon’s announcement this week that when it rolls out 5G to 4 U.S. cities later this year it will include an Apple TV and discounted YouTube TV (exact terms weren’t released). Noting the caveat that we haven’t seen 5G perform, we both believe it has a ton of potential to disrupt the wired broadband business which cable TV operators have dominated. As Verizon’s announcement shows, it also presents interesting opportunities to bundle pay-TV with 5G and wireless service.
Listen in to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 13 seconds)
Yesterday Netflix announced a very cool new feature called “Smart Downloads,” which automatically deletes an episode you’ve downloaded and finished watching on your mobile device, triggering the download of the subsequent episode. The process happens as soon as you’ve connected to WiFi and occurs invisibly in the background. Smart Downloads is available for Android devices now and for iOS devices later this year.
Smart Downloads is a clever way of automating a manual process, so that users always have something downloaded and ready to watch (although having to manually download a TV episode clearly falls in the category of “first world problems”). Smart Downloads is a a savvy move by Netflix to increase subscribers’ engagement time, which in turn leads to higher satisfaction and better retention. But perhaps most fascinating about Smart Downloads is that it illustrates how fully and quickly Netflix has evolved from an avowed downloading skeptic to an impressive innovator.
Hulu had a lot of updates at its NewFront/Upfront presentation this morning, but among the most interesting for me was that Hulu will offer downloading of its content, but with ads included. Since the vast majority of Hulu’s 20 million+ subscribers are on the ad-supported plan, this means Hulu is going to be breaking some new ground in downloading, relative to its ad-free SVOD peers Netflix and Amazon, both of which have been offering downloading for a while.
VideoNuze readers know I’ve been a huge fan of downloading for years since TiVo first offered it, seeing it as way for time-starved viewers to gain full access to the compelling content available on SVOD or DVR when they’re either not online (e.g. in airplanes), enduring spotty carrier connections (e.g. in trains and cars) or on expensive capped mobile data plans (as most wireless subscribers still are). Since many of us are in these modes very frequently, downloading is essential for allowing us to maximize the value of our monthly subscriptions, which in turn leads to higher satisfaction and reduced churn.
Penthera, which makes software to power video downloading to mobile devices, has raised $6 million from Liberty Global Ventures, the venture investment arm of Liberty Global International, which is the biggest international cable company and chaired by John Malone. Liberty Global is also a Penthera customer.
Penthera’s Cache&Carry software enables video providers to let their viewers download video to their iOS and Android mobile devices. Cache&Carry includes DRM support, configurable business rules, download queuing options, mobile DVR and “FastPlay” which launches buffer-free viewing.
Viewers’ interest in being able to download videos, as well as stream them, is strong, though awareness of a downloading feature in streaming services remains modest, according to new research from software provider Penthera. In a poll of U.S consumers 18-44 years-old, Penthera found that one third or more of subscribers to major SVOD services like Netflix weren’t aware downloading was available (Netflix officially launched downloading for select titles last November after consistently saying it didn’t believe it was a valuable feature). Dan Taitz, Penthera’s COO told me in a briefing that the relatively low awareness reflects downloading still being in an “early adopter phase.”
Downloading video for offline playback continues to gain momentum with Showtime announcing late last week that it has enabled downloading of its entire roster of programs from its standalone subscription and TV Everywhere apps at no additional cost. Downloading is available on iOS and Android phones and tablets plus Amazon Fire tablets.
Loyal VideoNuze readers know that I’ve been an enthusiastic downloading proponent for 4 1/2 years, back to when I first experienced TiVo’s implementation of it via TiVo Stream. I immediately saw downloading as a killer app because it allowed high quality out-of-home viewing independent of shaky or non-existent WiFi hotspots and/or eating up expensive mobile data plans (if they could even support video streaming).
In a move that was long, long overdue, Netflix announced yesterday that it was enabling downloading of content to iOS and Android mobile devices. Not all shows and movies are available for download, but importantly, it looks like most, if not all, of Netflix’s original productions are included. I tried downloading last night and it worked perfectly.
I’ve been saying since 2012 that downloading is a bona fide killer app, after I first started using TiVo’s excellent downloading feature to watch recordings on my iPad when traveling. Amazon totally understood the value of downloading as well, enabling it back in September, 2015. In a press release that both touted the new feature and implicitly tweaked Netflix, Amazon proclaimed it as “The First and Only Subscription Streaming Service to Offer This Feature.”
I'm pleased to present the 341st edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Over the past few years, online video viewing has become a completely mainstream activity. There are no better indicators of this shift than viewers’ adoption of mobile and connected TV devices for watching increasingly long-form entertainment programming. Yesterday’s FreeWheel VMR for Q2 ’16 revealed key data around these trends, which Colin and I dig into today.
Critical for mobile video viewing (which we explored in depth on last week’s podcast) to expand further is improving viewing experiences. This is being addressed in lots of ways, and I continue to believe that downloading, for offline viewing, is one of the main solutions. Colin and I also discuss the value of downloading, in the context of YouTube Go, a new offline viewing app launched earlier this week.
Listen in to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 56 seconds)
Yesterday YouTube announced YouTube Go, a new mobile app that provides sophisticated new features for offline video use. While YouTube Go will initially only be available in India, it will no doubt be introduced in other geographies once proven in.
YouTube Go builds on YouTube’s embrace of downloading for offline viewing in India and other Asian territories begun nearly two years ago with the introduction of YouTube Offline, which allowed downloading of certain videos for viewing within 48 hours. Earlier this year YouTube added the “Smart Offline” feature that allows users to schedule their downloads to take advantage of off-peak data use.
I’m posting this week’s VideoNuze podcast a day early as the first segment focuses on the new Apple TV, which was introduced yesterday.
Colin and I both see the new Apple TV as solid, but not spectacular. In many ways, it’s just catching up to what other devices have been offering: voice search, search across apps and gaming capabilities. The latter could ultimately be Apple TV’s big differentiator if Apple’s legion of developers take advantage of the new “tvOS” operating system SDK to create breakthrough new gaming experiences. We were both intrigued by the new remote with swipe capability, as well.
We then turn our attention to Netflix’s anti-downloading stance, which I dug into yesterday. I find it both perplexing and frustrating, with the company’s explanation not adding up. Colin isn’t initially as convinced as I am that downloading is a killer app, though with a 10-hour flight to Amsterdam today, he’s beginning to realize how much value it would have.
Listen in to learn more!
It’s been 4 years since Netflix’s “Qwikster” fiasco, in which the company infamously tried to separate its DVD business, eliciting emphatic objections from its subscribers. Netflix offered implausible explanations for its move and ultimately reversed itself. Since then the company has executed flawlessly, expanding its content, extending its international footprint, watching its stock price soar and most importantly, winning back the love of its subscribers.
Thus it is perplexing and frustrating to see Netflix oppose the idea of enabling its content to be downloaded for offline viewing, as an augment to streaming it. Reminiscent of Qwikster, Netflix is offering up bizarre and non-sensical explanations for opposing the download feature that it readily admits its subscribers are hungry for. Further, with Amazon’s expansion of Prime Video downloading to iOS and Android devices last week, it also appears to be a new competitive lever among SVOD providers.
According to a new study by Vubiquity, 58% of consumers would like the ability to download to their tablets TV shows and movies that are included in their pay-TV subscriptions. Of these, 63% would be willing to pay $1 to $5 to stream or download content. Respondents who expressed interest in downloading already consume proportionately more content across all platforms.
Vubiquity believes a downloading feature offers a big opportunity for pay-TV operators to differentiate themselves. Coincidentally, Will wrote back in October, 2012 how he believed TiVo Stream's download feature was a killer app. In late 2012 Comcast introduced a similar feature for certain TV shows (there are rights issues involved in deploying this more broadly).
Amazon has announced its new Kindle Fire HDX tablet which includes many new features, but from a video perspective the one that stands out as a key differentiator is the ability to download Prime Instant Videos and watch them while not connected to the Internet. The downloading feature will be available to Prime members at no extra charge.
The new downloading feature opens up great new use cases (on a plane, at a beach, no WiFi, etc.) that add meaningful value to Prime membership and help to differentiate Prime from Netflix and the HDX from the category-leading iPad.
Everywhere I look there are companies doing innovative, clever things to bring broadband video to the TV and to mobile devices.
Yesterday brought another great example, from Vuze, a company with roots as a BitTorrent client that has evolved to an aggregator of hi-def niche broadband video using its desktop application for discovery, download and playback. Vuze announced an update that enables users to drag-and-drop downloaded videos for playback on non-PC devices such as Xbox, PS3 and - via an integration with iTunes - to the iPhone, Apple TV and iPods. It's a pretty cool extension of the Vuze client experience and I spoke with Vuze's CEO Gilles BianRosa and Sr. Director of Marketing Chris Thun to learn more.
Without getting too far into the technical details, what Vuze has done is capitalized on hooks that have existed in these various devices, making videos downloaded via Vuze visible in these devices' interfaces. As Gilles explained it, these hooks have been available for a while, but only the super-technical would have invested the time and effort to benefit from them.
The connections to Xbox (installed base of 30M) and PS3 (installed base of 23M) are quite complimentary to Vuze, which has 10M unique visitors/mo and about 50M downloads to date, because its content library is heavily skewed toward SciFi, animation, games and comedy (all HD btw) along with its user base. In other words, there's an affinity audience who will immediately benefit from being able to watch Vuze's content on their big screens and on-the-go. In fact, in a recent survey of its users for how they'd want to connect their PCs to TV and mobile, Vuze got 30K responses with a strong emphasis on gaming and Apple devices.
In prior conversations with Gilles I've raised a concern about the viability of Vuze's (or anyone's) client download model given the ever-increasing quality of browser-based streaming. But these integrations do shed new light on the value proposition of having a desktop presence. With its update, Vuze actually goes one step further by automatically transcoding downloaded videos into the format appropriate for the target device, often in real-time, thus eliminating playback issues.
Gilles noted that this is a beta release however, and that one current limitation is that ads cannot be passed through. This is a not insignificant gap for an ad-supported site. Vuze hopes to have ads up and running within a month or so. It also has its eye on integrating with additional devices. My bet is that TiVo is next up given that TiVo founder Mike Ramsey sits on Vuze's board.
For now Vuze's content is relatively nichey and Gilles concedes that despite ongoing negotiations with major studios and TV networks, they're still getting comfortable with Vuze's P2P platform. Given the crowded video aggregator space, Vuze's ongoing challenge is to bolster its content library to broaden its appeal.
But Vuze's new update, sure to mimicked by others, which comes on top of Netflix reporting 1M Watch Instantly users connecting to their Xboxes and consuming 1.5 billion in the first 2 months of its availability, Boxee's multiple integrations and other PC-to-TV convergence initiatives underway, shows the huge pent-up interest users have in watching broadband video on their TVs. The genie is way out of the bottle and content providers need to begin adapting to the coming landscape where video flows between PC, TV and mobile, offering unprecedented convenience to users.
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