Mobile Video

Kevin Werbach writes that “video will be a significant driver for next-generation mobile networks. Just not in the ways most operators and analysts are expecting.”

The upshot is that handheld devices will never be a major market for one-way distribution of commercial broadcast video.

The good news is that mobile phones are not just video playback devices. They are, increasingly, video recorders. More cameras will be sold worldwide this year in mobile phones (an estimated 150 million) than in digital cameras (50 million) and analog film cameras (60 million, excluding single-use boxes) combined. And that gap will only grow.

Since video is, in essence, just a stream of still photos, the same basic hardware that allows a phone to take pictures allows it to shoot and display video. Many popular cameraphones, such as the Nokia 3650, already offer video capabilities. The biggest difference is the storage required. With increasingly capacious flash memory and miniature hard drives, however, that limitation is easing. And don’t forget the millions of laptops with cheap add-on webcams or digital video cameras, online through wireless hotspots or 3G data networks.

Using the mobile device to record changes the video from a form of content to a type of communication. There are plenty of other ways I can watch the highlights from last night’s football game. Most of them are more convenient, a better experience and cheaper than my mobile phone. However, if I want to give my wife a virtual walk-through of the apartment I’m looking at right now, or show my parents how their granddaughter is starting to crawl, or show my friends that I was just standing across the street from Madonna, there is no better alternative.

Journalists and would-be journalists will use the same technology to cover news stories live from the scene. Users will share popular video clips as MMS messages, the way they ship them around to PCs as email attachments. People will record how-to guides, recipes, and video tours. And they will share their daily experiences in video weblogs, or videoblogs, which are already springing up. A video-enabled cameraphone with the right software and back-end hosting becomes an instant videoblogging factory.

In short, a video-capable mobile device is an extension of its owner’s eyes and ears. It means that you can transmit what you see, anywhere and any time, to nearly two billion Internet users worldwide. Suddenly, we’ll be living not just in a global village but a global auditorium. Some of the consequences are frightening and some are trifling — imagine the audience of mobile users who will share a future equivalent of the Paris Hilton sex video. Too bad; it’s inevitable. Similarly, operators won’t like the demands that two-way video puts on their networks. Having built and promoted fat data pipes and needing something to replace falling voice revenues, though, they will have little choice but to go along.

Russell Beattie calls it “personal broadcasting” and adds: “Even though I generally agree with Kevin’s post – Personal Broadcasting will be key – I have to say that 1) On-demand mobile video will be huge. This isn’t MMS or some other non-proven system, this is TiVo in your hand – both convenient and compelling. And 2) The carriers and manufacturers are exploring every possible avenue to generate higher ARPUs. It’s a feeding frenzy right now as small companies compete to get a piece of the action. Now, how long will this take to happen and how long before my mother is sending me videos and making video conference calls from her mobile? That’s a hard thing to guess. But I think with the carriers starting to push mobile video capable phones, launching mobile media online services and the general public starting to use mobile data services more, the tipping point could be a lot sooner than you would think.”

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.