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Will iPhone Reignite Interest in Mobile Video?

There are enough signs that Apple’s iPhone, the fast-growing mobile device from the Cupertino-based consumer electronics and computing giant, will give the still-emerging business of mobile video a turbo boost. Here’s why:

Earlier it was reported that some NBC television shows could be streamed directly to iPhone via the browser. In addition, Orb, an Emeryville, Calif.-based startup announced that it had figured out how to stream live video to iPhone and iTouch, on the unlocked devices, often referred to as “jail broken.” (Watch video). But the real boost to Internet video on the iPhone will come later this year, when Move Networks, an American Fork, Utah-based company, will release an iPhone version of its player.

Move founder and CEO John Edwards (no, not that one) stopped by in our office yesterday to meet with Liz and me and give us an update on the state of his company. He coincidentally became the first CEO to have Crash, the GigaPuppy, sit in on the meeting. Even though I was obsessed with why he raised $46 million, towards the end of the conversation, I asked him about his iPhone plans. He said Move is working on the player, but it is still early days — though he did assure us that it would be made available around the time Apple opens up the iPhone sometime later this summer.

Move’s move could have a major impact on the mobile video business. Why? Move’s video technology is used by most major networks to stream shows from their web sites -– ABC, Fox, ESPN and CBS are all Move clients. So essentially what it means is, you could go to, say, the ABC web site and watch an ad-supported episode of Lost by streaming it to the iPhone.

Move’s player can adjust the quality of the video according to the bandwidth available to the client machine. With a 3G iPhone rumored to be launching in June, Move is smart to wait out the release of its client. Even its technology is not going to be able to overcome the lousy experience of watching streamed video over an EDGE network. (Yeah, I tried watching 30 Rock on my iPhone and it sucked.)

Easy access to popular TV content that can be played back over the air without paying for it will prompt a lot of people to give it a shot. And that could spark interest in mobile video, which has been a slow starter in the U.S. market, to put it mildly. Even with the availability of Verizon VCast, Mobi TV and now AT&T’s Media FLO network, a mere 4.5 percent of U.S. subscribers have watched mobile TV, according to research firm M:Metrics. In comparison, a M:Metrics survey shows that nearly 31 percent of iPhone users have watched video on their device, while 21 percent have watched on-demand video or TV programming on their device.
I suspect there is a correlation between the screen size and video watching habits. Using an example of one — in addition to my iPhone, I like watching side loaded video content like Digg Nation on LG Vu and Nokia N95 all the time, mostly because they have screens that don’t make me squint.

One of the reasons people have a lackadaisical attitude towards mobile video is because they don’t want to pay the $10-to-$15 monthly subscription fee. In other words, ad-supported video is the way forward. That is why I think Move’s iPhone-compatible player could do the trick.

12 Responses to “Will iPhone Reignite Interest in Mobile Video?”

  1. Om,

    A very interesting article, and the question you pose reflects exactly what we are seeing from an advertising perspective. The iPhone has had a tremendously positive impact on the usage of mobile content, which naturally makes it a very appealing medium for our advertising partners, many of whom are pursuing video ad campaigns. The progressive downloading approach utilized by the iPhone delivers great video quality with a streaming-like user experience. It’s true that video on EDGE is not a great user experience. Fortunately, as part of our iPhone Video Ad solution launched earlier this year, Ad Infuse can detect the handset and network connection type, and deliver different versions of the video ad accordingly to help address this. Interestingly, we see video impressions over WIFI four times more frequently than the number of video impressions viewed over EDGE. Most compelling, and to your original question, we are running mobile video ad campaigns where iPhone users are consuming three times more video than all other devices combined. Imagine what will happen when a 3G version is released!

  2. My friends… one word for you… SLINGBOX. When I had a T-Mobile MDA running the Sling Mobile Player over EDGE (well over a year ago), it was adequate though far from great. However, running over WIFI, it was quite good. My hope is that the 3G speed will run at the same quality because the bottle neck is my upload at home. $129 one time fee is well worth it to watch 100+ channels of live television piped to my phone/laptop. By far, the best purchase I ever made and one I use almost every day (including right now!).

  3. Don’t forget that Sling is supposed to be working on a mobile Slingplayer app for the iPhone and Touch. And, EyeTV can stream your DVR media from your Mac, and Roxio’s Toast 9 has a Streamer app that does the same.

  4. Interesting article. We’ve actually nearly finished implementing true live TV on the iPhone without any installs or extra hardware – both Orb and Move run off custom software that has to be downloaded or bought, which is always a barrier to entry. Doing it through the quicktime plugin (and some clever server side magic) as we do is, we believe, the best way forward to encourage casual viewing. And, since it’s effectively working through a web page, the possibilities for click through advertising are interesting.

    You can’t currently stream live TV to the iPhone without building an app, so we think our work is potentially groundbreaking. We’re already talking to a number of UK broadcasters about this (we’re in London), as we tend to agree that there is an appetite for mobile TV that is both free and simple to view. In addition, it opens up entirely new broadcasting strategies for everyone from businesses to local communities. Imagine watching Starbucks TV over wireless in their coffee shops. Easily done (once these developers next to me finally finishes their work!)

    The mobile industry has been dominated for too long by multi million pound strategies and unbearable walled garden approaches. At Best Before, we find it quite liberating that the barriers to entry for broadcasting are falling so fast. And are glad to be part of that.

    Should be finished in a couple of weeks. For a taster, have a look on youtube –

  5. While I am not an expert in the limitations of the iPhone SDK, one can imagine all sorts of interesting social, informational and entertainment applications around video. I am thinking player tools that allow iPhone/iPod touch users to grab multiple clips, sample them, organize them, attach snippets of information to them and then share them with friends or like minds.

    The touch and tilt UI is really compelling for the these types of workflows, and as an iPod touch owner I can definitely say that experiencing YouTube’s vast library via WiFi compels in a way that it never did (for me) on PC.

    For some fodder on application scenarios around this model, check out Mobility 2.0 and the iPhone SDK:



  6. Streaming video over Edge? That’s a good one!

    I watched an episode of The Office streaming over broadband wifi on the iPhone a couple nights ago, and the user experience was excellent. I’ll definitely be back for more. I think the iPhone is the first mobile display that’s large and bright enough to make this interesting, at least in US markets.

    If 3G can provide a similar experience on the go, I suspect this will be a big hit.

  7. Om,

    How is Move’s video technology superior to MyWaves which works on many devices, unlocked or not? I can’t see how ad supported video (pre or post roll) wouldn’t find MyWaves superior for reach or video viewing experience.

    I also don’t have any facts here, but I don’t think MyWaves has $46 million in venture capital either.

  8. Om,

    Does that mean, the only difference between Orb and Move is that, the former pretends to be “jail broken” while the latter “an officer”?

    “Move’s player can adjust the quality of the video according to the bandwidth available to the client machine.”

    Would there be any limitations over the video format?