Meet Mobile Video

First there was online video. Next, mobile marketing demanded interactive marketing’s spotlight. It was only a matter of time before these two engrossing media collaborated to produce offspring.

Mobile video has arrived. And as the next generation of digital communication, it’s promising to cause as much of a stir as its predecessors.

Imagine viewing a network TV show or feature film on the postage stamp-size screen of your cell phone, and you start to understand what mobile video is all about. The concept is to deliver video content of all kinds to consumers via their mobile phones. Some consider the scenario utterly impractical, while others are delighted by the potential of catching up on missed or favorite offline programming while on the go. Regardless of which faction you side with, mobile video is now a reality. There’s no shortage of companies vying to dominate this new space.

Last year, a company called Sling Media was formed in California with the intention of facilitating mobile TV; it’s first product, the Slingbox Personal Broadcaster, streams video content from consumer DVRs and satellite boxes to handheld devices. In March, Nokia began testing a mobile TV system in Finland that allows users to watch MTV, CNN, BBC World, Eurosport and domestic TV content on their mobile devices. The company is getting ready to release the system’s specifics to mobile service providers with the objective of helping them launch commercial mobile TV services in 2006.

Nokia also combined forces with U.K.-based media licensing company Granada Ventures and digital multimedia company ROK Player to offer full-length mobile movies. Their first title, all 142 minutes of “The Shawshank Redemption,” is available on a memory card for cell phone viewing. Granada says TV shows, sporting events and other films will follow. Sprint, meanwhile, already offers a mobile TV service, Sprint TV, which allows consumers to stream clips from NBC, CNN, E! Entertainment and other channels for a small monthly fee. Qualcomm plans to build a nationwide wireless video network by next year that will offer up to 100 content channels.

In spite of this progress, the mobile video space is still very much in its infancy in North America. That doesn’t mean consumers aren’t already prepared to accept it. According to a survey by In-Stat, American consumers are far more excited about mobile TV then about other data applications they’ve known to date. ABI Research says there may be as many as 250 million mobile video service customers by 2010.

When it comes to the logistics of obtaining mobile video content, however, consumer interest wanes. According to a new JupiterResearch study, although 44 percent of consumers would like to watch video on their mobile phones, just 10 percent are willing to pay for it.

That’s where advertising comes into play.

While an unwillingness to pay for content may be bad news for mobile carriers and mobile video service providers, it could prove lucrative for marketers; after all, similar studies have shown the majority of consumers aren’t willing to pay for online content, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from using the Web. Combine the potential for decent usage rates with the probable need on the part of service providers to subsidize free content with third-party advertising, and you’ve got a marketing opportunity with muscle.

Given mobile video advertising’s novelty, marketing opportunities are still few and far between. Yet early adopters and trailblazers do have some options to choose from. Earlier this month, marketing software company Lighteningcast launched a mobile video advertising solution that allows mobile providers to insert ads into both real-time broadcast and on-demand video content. The solution is priced on a CPM basis and is “platform and device agnostic.” In other words, it’s compatible with most every mobile carrier and cell phone (though the company notes some advanced capabilities may not be available to all service providers).

Like online video and mobile marketing before it, mobile video will be a space to watch, both from the consumer and marketing perspectives. In the meantime, I’d love to hear whether you’ll be as eager to utilize it as mobile technology companies are to offer it.

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