Verizon officially unveiled its latest Droid smartphone this afternoon, the Droid X from Motorola, running Google's Android 2.1 mobile OS (with an upgrade to Android 2.2 planned for later this summer). I've been following coverage this afternoon, and aside from all of the other cool new features, what resounds most for me is how video-focused the device is, and how strongly Verizon will be promoting this.
I've previously said that video would move to the forefront of the ferocious smartphone battle underway between Google (with Android) and Apple (with the iPhone). With the Droid X launch, and the recent HTC Evo from Sprint (which I've been testing and will report on next week), plus numerous others to follow, I'm convinced that we are now getting into the thick of things.
From what I've read about the Droid X, there are 3 dimensions of the video proposition, each of which stacks up differently with the iPhone 4: (1) shooting video, in 720p HD, (2) watching video on the device's 4.3 inch 854 x 480 resolution screen, and (3) connecting the device via DLNA over a home network or via an HDMI-out port to your widescreen TV.
Categories: Mobile Video
Following are 4 items worth noting for the Nov 16th week:
1. FCC raises "Open Access" possibility, would further government's control of the Internet - As reported by the WSJ this week, the FCC is now considering an "Open Access" policy that would require broadband Internet providers to open up their networks for use by competitors. The move comes on top of FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's recent proposal for formalizing net neutrality, a plan that I vigorously oppose. Open Access gained steam recently due to a report released by Harvard's Berkman Center that characterized the U.S. as a "middle-of-the-pack" country along various broadband metrics. The report has been roundly dismissed by service providers as drawing incorrect conclusions due to reliance on incomplete data.
The FCC is in the midst of crafting a National Broadband Plan, as required by Congress, aimed at providing universal broadband service throughout the U.S. as well as faster broadband speeds. Improving broadband Internet access in rural areas of the U.S. is a worthy goal, but the FCC should be pursuing surgical approaches for accomplishing this, rather than turning the whole broadband industry upside down. As for increasing speeds, major ISPs are already pushing 50 and 100 mbps services, more than most consumers need right now anyway. Broadband connectivity is the lifeblood for online video providers and any government initiative that risks unintended consequences of slowing network infrastructure investments is unwise.
2. Broadcast TV executives waking up to online video's challenges - Reading the coverage of B&C/Multichannel News's panel earlier this week, "Free Streaming: Killing or Saving the Television Business" featuring Marc Graboff (NBCU), Bruce Rosenblum (Warner Bros.), Nancy Tellem (CBS) and John Wells (WGA), I kept wondering where were these sentiments when the Hulu business plan was being crafted?
Hulu is of course the poster child for providing free access to the networks' programs, with just a fraction of the ad load as on-air. While the panelists agreed that the industry should be dissuading consumers from cord-cutting, Hulu is (purposefully or not) the chief reason some people consider dropping cable/satellite/telco service. For VideoNuze readers, it's old news already that broadcast networks have been hurting themselves with their current online model. What was amazing to me in reading about the panel is that what now seems obvious should have been very apparent to industry executives from the start.
3. Motorola Droid sales off to a strong start - The mobile analytics firm Flurry released data suggesting that first week Verizon sales of the Motorola Droid smartphone were an estimated 250,000. Flurry tracks applications on smartphones to estimate sales volume of devices. While the Droid results are lower than the 1.6 million iPhone 3GS units sold in that device's first week, Flurry notes that the iPhone 3GS was available in 8 countries and also had an installed base of 25 million 1st generation iPhones to draft on.
The Droid's success is important for lots of reasons, but from my perspective the key is how it expands the universe of mobile video users. As I noted in "Mobile Video Continues to Gain Traction," a robust mobile ecosystem is developing, and getting more smartphones into users' hands is crucial. I was in my local Verizon store this week and saw the Droid for the first time - though it lacks some of the iPhone's sleekness, the video quality is even better.
4. AOL's downsizing suggests further pain ahead - AOL was back in the news this week, planning to cut one-third of its employees ahead of its spin-off from Time Warner on Dec. 9th. The cuts will bring the company's headcount to 4,500-5,000, down from its peak of 18,000 in 2001. As I explained recently, no company has been hurt more by the rise of broadband than AOL, whose dial-up subscribers have fled en masse to broadband ISPs. Now AOL is going all-in on the ad model, even as the ad business itself is getting hurt by the ongoing recession. New AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is clearly a guy who loves a challenge; righting the AOL ship is a real long shot bet. I once thought of AOL as being a real leader in online video. Now I'm hard-pressed to see how the AOL story is going to have a happy ending.
Enjoy your weekends!
Following are 4 items worth noting for the Nov 9th week:
1. Will Cisco's new Flip Video camera ad campaign fly? - Cisco deserves credit for its new "Do You Flip" ad campaign for its Flip Video camera, a real out-of-the-box effort comprised entirely of user-generated video clips shot by ordinary folks and celebrities alike. As the campaign was described in this Online Media Daily article, finding the clips and then editing them together sounds like heavy lifting, but the results perfectly reinforce the value proposition of the camera itself. The ads are being shown on TV and the web; there's an outdoor piece to the campaign as well.
Cisco acquired Flip for nearly $600 million earlier this year in a somewhat incongruous deal that thrust the router powerhouse into the intensely competitive consumer electronics fray. Cisco will have to spend aggressively to maintain market share as other pocket video cameras have gained steam, like the Creative Vado HD, Samsung HMX and Kodak Z series. There's also emerging competition from smartphones (led by the iPhone of course) that have built-in video recording capabilities. I've been somewhat skeptical of the Cisco-Flip deal, but with the new campaign, Cisco looks committed to making it a success.
2. YouTube brings ad-skipping to the web - Speaking of out-of-the-box thinking, YouTube triggered a minor stir in the online video advertising space this week by announcing a trial of "skippable pre-roll" ads. On the surface, it feels unsettling that DVR-style ad-skipping - a growing and bedeviling trend on TV - is now coming to the web. Yet as YouTube explained, there's actually ample reason and some initial data to suggest that by empowering viewers, the ads that are watched could be even more valuable.
One thing pre-roll skipping would surely do is up the stakes for producing engaging ads that immediately capture the viewer's attention. And it would also increase the urgency for solid targeting. Done right though, I think pre-roll skipping could work quite well. At a minimum I give YouTube points for trying it out. Incidentally, others in the industry are doing other interesting things improve the engagement and effectiveness of the pre-roll. I'll have more on this in the next week or two.
3. Watching the NY Times at 30,000 feet - Flipping channels on my seat-back video screen on a JetBlue flight from Florida earlier this week, I happened on a series of highly engaging NY Times videos: a black and white interview with Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem, then a David Pogue demo of the Yoostar Home Greenscreen Kit and then an expose of Floyd Bennett Field, the first municipal airport in New York City. It turned out that all were running on The Travel Channel.
Good for the NY Times. Over the past couple of years I've written often about the opportunities that broadband video opens up for newspapers and magazines to leverage their brands, advertising relationships and editorial skills into the new medium. By also running their videos on planes, the NY Times is exposing many prospective online viewers to its video content, thereby broadening what the NY Times brand stands for and likely generating subsequent traffic to its web site. That's exactly what it and other print pubs should be doing to avoid the fate of the recently-shuttered Gourmet magazine, which never fully mined the web's potential. I know I'm a broken record on this, but video producers must learn that syndicating their video as widely as possible is imperative.
4. Nielsen forecast underscores smartphones' mobile video potential - A couple of readers pointed out that in yesterday's post, "Mobile Video Continues to Gain Traction" I missed relevant Nielsen data from just the day before. Nielsen forecasts that smartphones will be carried by more than 50% of cell phone users by 2011, totaling over 150 million people. Nielsen assumes that 60% of these smartphone owners will be watching video translating to an audience size of 90 million people. Its research also shows that 47% of users of the new Motorola Droid smartphone are watching video, vs. 40% of iPhone users. Not a huge distinction, but more evidence that the Droid and other newer smartphones are likely to increase mobile video consumption still further.
Enjoy your weekends!
I continue to be impressed with how the mobile video market is gaining traction. It seems like rarely a day goes by now where there isn't an announcement by a technology vendor, content provider or service provider related to mobile video. Though it's still well behind online video's adoption, all of the pieces continue to fall into place for mobile video's continued growth.
From a consumer usage standpoint, the iPhone has of course been the key driver. Whenever I'm with an iPhone owner, I'm struck by how deeply they've integrated video into their mobile experience. It's not just that they've downloaded TV shows and movies to watch on planes and so forth, but rather how natural it is for them to start playing a video and then pass their phone around so others can watch also. The iPhone has turbocharged the whole concept of shared, out-of-home video experiences.
And though the iPhone's 30 million estimated units sold represents a huge footprint of new mobile video users (in turn generating a large ecosystem of app developers), from a device standpoint, new entrants are poised to grow the market even further. Devices powered by the Android mobile operating system are continuing to come to market, with the most recent, high-profile example being Motorola's Droid, offered by Verizon Wireless. Verizon is putting a huge marketing push behind the Droid, contributing to a growing sense of awareness by consumers of the appeal of smartphones and their video capabilities in particular. Not surprisingly given its Google parentage, YouTube has also weighed in on the benefits of Android in allowing easier uploading at higher video quality.
In addition the iPhone and Android, among business users, Blackberry continues to dominate and internationally, Nokia has the largest smartphone position. This all suggests there will be vigorous competition among these 4 platforms, leading to lots consumer-facing promotion and rapid innovation. In a recent AdAge piece, IDC estimated that 6% of U.S. cell phone users, or 18 million people, will watch video on their cell phones this year, rising to 27 million in 2013.
Content providers have taken notice of these dynamics and have been aggressively creating video-rich mobile apps, initially for the iPhone, but now also for Android, Nokia and Blackberry smartphones. In a recent conversation I had with Ujjal Kohli, CEO of Rhythm NewMedia, which specializes in "mobilizing and monetizing" broadcast and cable networks' TV shows, he explained how clients continue to bulk up their teams devoted solely to mobile video initiatives. An example of this is Warner Bros, which is among a number of film studios now pursuing mobile initiatives. In addition to building mobile video apps, Rhythm is also creating a mobile video ad network, like Transpera (which I last covered here). As mobile video usage surges, advertising will grow right alongside it. Mobile advertising in general received major validation earlier this week as Google acquired mobile video ad display network AdMob for $750 million.
With all this mobile video activity, technology providers are increasingly their attention to serving their content customers. Just yesterday, Kyte, a video platform company that focused early on mobile, announced that it has launched "application frameworks" for Android and Nokia, following on previous frameworks for iPhone and Blackberry. As Gannon Hall, Kyte's COO told me, its content customers have pushed Kyte for other platforms. Now with native support for all four platforms, Kyte's customers can quickly and cost-effectively adapt existing apps, incorporating full social and monetization functions. While Gannon believes Kyte has taken the lead among OVPs in offering mobile capabilities beyond just APIs, he envisions others ramping up as well. Some evidence of this is today's partnership announcement by VMIX and Qik, to integrate mobile live streaming into VMIX's platform. More will surely follow.
There are plenty of other examples of how the ecosystem supporting mobile video is being built out, such as Clearwire announcing this week $1.5 billion in additional capital raised for its 4G WiMax network, Verizon leading a group of venture investors in a $1.3 billion "LTE" 4G opportunity fund, Adobe releasing Flash Player 10.1 targeted for mobile devices, AT&T accelerating deployment of "HSPA 7.2" technology in 6 cities to boost 3G speeds and Akamai launching its "Akamai HD" network, which among other things supports HD video streaming to the iPhone. These and many other examples form the foundation for ever more robust mobile video experiences in the future.
One of my predictions for 2009 was that after many fits and starts, mobile video finally seemed poised to take off. Nearly 11 months into the year, I think we're seeing ample evidence of this happening. I expect only continued growth going forward.
What do you think? Post a comment now.