Commentary

In Mobile Video, Speed Wins: Are You Ready to Race For Big Advertising Dollars?

The “speed to entertainment” quotient for traditional television is very high, one of the reasons it remains so popular.

Typically, that advertising is untargeted and at best, only broadly useful to you. Syndicated content abounds, of varying value. Premium content syndication often subsidizes the production and discovery of more "soon-to-be" premium content.

Now think about the Internet. Find your browser, press a button, and millions of choices leap to your fingertips. Advertising regularly pops up that may interrupt what you’re trying to watch, but at least it’s typically more targeted and relevant to you as an individual consumer.

As with TV, syndicated content abounds, of widely varying value.

There’s very little difference between those two paragraphs (and viewing experiences), except for one thing, how long it takes you to get to the stuff you want to watch. The difference equals a $50 billion opportunity. And the path to that opportunity depends substantially on one thing, speed.

That $50 billion is the current delta between the U.S. TV advertising market and its mobile-video advertising market. Why such a big gap?

Video on mobile is now widely watched (more than 24 billion videos are streamed DAILY across Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube). But lack of speed kills on mobile. Delays we wouldn’t notice on TV seem interminable in our handset.

Users want immediacy in their video-watching experiences, whether it’s on traditional TV, a desktop computer or their mobile device.

Television content and advertising is delivered over high-speed pipelines, these days over-the-air, by co-axial cable, satellite signals or even fiber to the home. Desktop content and advertising taps fast landline networks for what is generally a good experience.

But as users shift more of their video watching to mobile devices, their expectations don't change. If anything, they get more exacting as the experience gets more personal and connected to a specific person.

But mobile networks are still slow. Most networks are, at best, mostly 4G, their mobile video technology built on legacy approaches from desktop ad and content serving that are not optimized for the new platform’s exacting demands.

The good news is that 5G networks are becoming more widely available and within a few years will be the norm. That will eliminate the network piece of this problem.

But content creators also have to address the systems that drive their businesses. If those systems aren’t ready to take advantage of faster networks, then content creators are missing a huge opportunity with both their audiences and their advertisers.

Mobile video-first systems need to mediate advertising choices in milliseconds, not seconds. In fact, once again, lack of speed kills. An Aberdeen study found that for every second of buffering, there’s an 11% bounce in users. That’s a pretty steep penalty for tardy response, and it will only get worse as expectations increase with faster networks and faster competition.

So publishers who want to chase that $50 billion opportunity, and close the TV/digital gap had better put in place systems that can keep up. And in a world where three of the largest media businesses are mobile-first (Google, Facebook, Snapchat), and are already investing in faster video experiences (AMP, Instant Articles), delivering mobile-video content quickly is fast becoming table stakes for any publisher.

Some ad-tech companies have recently touted video-mediation systems capable of the speed the new networks need, though they’ve yet to detail whether their systems can reach those speeds on mobile. The toughest nuts to crack are video, especially on mobile.

That’s where companies should be focusing their technology and tools, optimizing for the coming needs of both publishers and advertisers, to position them for the fast-twitch mobile-video future.

Mobile first/video first is how we’re all going to win in the high-speed world we’re about to enter.

For publishers that want to not just compete, but grab a bigger share of the tens of billions of dollars in TV advertising shifting to digital in coming years, one rule matters: Speed wins.

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