As DVR penetration and usage have steadily climbed, it has seemed inevitable that one day internal disks wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand to store more and more video. Now, judging from Motorola Mobility’s latest Media Engagement Barometer, that day might be here.
The study out today shows that even though one-third of U.S. TV viewing involves recorded programs, 41% of the video saved to DVRs never gets watched. Often, that’s because people have to delete stored programs to make room for new ones. 55% of U.S. DVR users said they’ve had to kill off recorded shows to add capacity for new programs, and 81% (women more so than men) said they’ve been frustrated over having to do so.
At the recent Cable Show, John Holobinko, VP of Strategy for the Network Infrastructure Group of Motorola Mobility, stopped by for a brief video interview. We primarily discuss "nDVR" which Motorola was demonstrating at the show. nDVR allows viewers to record programs and store them in the network/cloud, vs. locally on their own DVRs. The obvious benefit to the viewer is not having to worry about limited storage capacity. In addition, as John explains, nDVR also opens up out-of-home, multi-device on-demand viewing. It also offers operational improvements for the pay-TV operator and new ad opportunities for content providers. Watch the interview below (6 minutes, 6 seconds).
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!
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.
Does the world need another broadband video aggregation site for premium quality video content?
The answer to that question will start to come early next week when Sling.com, the latest entrant in this already crowded space, officially launches. Recently Jason Hirschhorn, president of Sling Media's entertainment group and Brian Jaquet, Sling's Director of Public Relations came through Boston and caught me up on their plans to launch commercially on Nov. 24th.
Many of you know that Sling is the maker of the Slingbox, which connects to your TV or DVR, allowing you to remotely watch programs on your computer. It's a very clever product, though I have to admit its use case has always been a little confounding to me. Nonetheless, just over a year ago, Sling was acquired by EchoStar in a $380 million deal. Shortly thereafter, EchoStar split itself into two parts, Dish Network, the satellite-delivered programming company, and EchoStar Corporation, which includes Sling and other technology-based businesses.
Sling.com, developed by Jason's entertainment group, is the first Sling offering not tethered to any of its devices and therefore open to all users. Acknowledging that Hulu has set a high bar on user experience, Jason explained that Sling.com is attempting to go one step further on usability, and will also differentiate itself with updated social networking capabilities and highly focused editorial content.
In particular, Sling.com offers a slew of Facebook-like features that allow users to subscribe to and favorite programs and networks, with users in turn able to follow these activities. As Jason aptly put it, the goal is to "digitize the water cooler conversation." The whole experience is geared toward engaging the user at a far deeper level than we're accustomed to in passive linear viewing, or even typical at other aggregators' sites.
The real differentiator for Sling long-term though is the integration of Sling.com with the remote viewing offered by Slingbox. Enabled by a new web-based player (instead of the prior downloadable client), users are able to seamlessly browse back and forth between watching live TV and cataloged programs, as shown below.
Taking this one step further, Sling's goal is to get its remote viewing technology embedded in others' set-top boxes as well. So for example, a Comcast STB with Sling inside would allow you to have live TV integrated into your Sling.com, without having to go buy another box.
That's an enticing prospect, but making it happen will be no small feat; the STB giants like Motorola and SA (now part of Cisco) will get on board only when their biggest customers - America's cable operators - ask for it. The prospect of these cable executives wanting to incorporate any technology controlled by Charlie Ergen, Echo's founder/CEO and the cable industry's arch-enemy, stretches my mind. However, stranger deals have been done, so who knows. In the meantime, there are a whole lot of other non-cable homes globally Sling can address first.
But much of that is down the road anyway. For now, Sling.com is going to compete head on with Hulu (which by my count supplies virtually the entire current movie catalog at Sling.com, in turn begging the question of how many different ways one relatively small ad revenue stream can get carved up?), Fancast, the portal sites, YouTube and so on. Jason readily admits that these sites will not compete on content exclusivity; ultimately they'll all have access to everything that's available.
So in this incredibly crowded space, is there room for a newcomer? On the surface, it's tempting to say "no." But history teaches us that "better mousetraps" can elbow their way into even the most crowded spaces. Remember how many search engines already existed when Google burst onto the scene? On a totally different level, I can relate to this challenge myself. A year ago I wondered whether there was room for a new broadband video-centric blog when so many others already existed; now here we are.
The reality is that newcomers succeed because they don't accept the status quo as final. Rather, they find smart ways of delivering new and better value to customers who didn't necessarily even know what they wanted, but when they got it, were delighted. That's Sling.com's challenge. Whether it can meet it remains to be seen. But in this crummy economy, their deep-pocketed backing certainly gives them a leg up on any VC-funded competitors when it comes to long-term staying power.
What do you think? Post a comment now!