The mobile video services on both my iPhone and iPad are starting to pile up, and just remembering what I have is getting cumbersome. I am sure that the video providers themselves would like to think that having multiple channels on a mobile deck is much like having a remote control that lets you rifle through the options regularly. It is not. Having discrete videos branded as ABC, CBS, Hulu, TMZ, AMC, etc. on the iPhone/iPad home pages is more like a wall of TVs -- each of which needs to be turned on, warmed up and navigated under their own interface.
The architectural differences among mobile applications, including mobile video, are not that small a matter. Users of multiple apps need to grow accustomed to different styles. Does a tap here launch a video or give me description and a play button? Can I still one-hand this phone and see the video in portrait mode, or will it force me to reorient?
I think we discovered long ago on the Web that it's the little speed bumps in information architecture that can kill usability. I still believe that people have a memory for Web sites and apps that are just a smidge more work to use than another -- and on some level this knowledge affects their frequency of use. I know that tapping open Adam Curry's Big App Show puts me a click away from today's video, while AMC is going to give me a load bar, and Hulu Plus is going to drop me thoughtfully into catch-up mode with clips of last night's late-night shows. This all affects my decisions to tap or not to tap an app open.
But all of the video apps require that I seek them out or trip over them when and if I have a sec to do a phone content check. The weakest link for mobile video has always been our memory that we have it in hand. From the time Verizon first put VCast onto the early 3G phones and Qualcomm embedded receivers with sharp reception, the problem for me has been that video on a hand set never became a reflex. This is sure to change, but video more than any other mobile medium need s a little push -- a digital push.
I was reminded of the effectiveness of push this week by a very simple, but strong, SMS-to-video campaign from video sharing service Thwapr. The company is working with the VANs Warped concert tour as well as the 2010 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival to keep both the sponsoring brands and great video content in people's faces. The user simply subscribes to get updates via SMS ("send "Warped" or "Mayhem" to 757575). Daily texts link to a mobile Web page that contains a play link and sharing tools. The three-minute clips are there every day -- and the odds are I am watching this content series and its sponsors more regularly than the content I might find in an app.
Actually, the lesson here is not just the simple distribution method. We have had many instances where SMS links to video. What actually gives this program more depth is that it is a rounded and well-crafted series with a consistent hostess/reporter. When you subscribe, the first video reply introduces her and the content of the series. She shows up every day, reporting from a different venue, and each clip gives you a strong sense of place, that you really are accessing a traveling event and getting reports from the road. In other words, the content matches the distribution method. It feels like a peer using her phone cam to report on a road trip, and it comes to you in pretty much the same way a friend would communicate.
How can mobile video publishers leverage this good example? Let me subscribe to specific programming in your well of goodies, and send me app alerts or SMS with links that pull me back in. AMC, I will take an SMS to remind me there is a new "Mad Men" clip. News providers, give me a simple way to let you push specific video topic to me so they surface outside of the app. Do all the usual TV-land cross-selling of other content when I get into your app and after I watch what I wanted, but give me what I really want first.
Move this forward by getting out of the Web model where we were all impressed at the depth and the breadth of your video libraries. On a phone, not so much. I am more interested in having the specific topics I want on video rising closer to the surface. Until I start associating the cell phone with video in the same way I already link it conceptually with text, voice and headlines, I am going to need reminding that I have a DVR in my pocket.
We have the elegant and simple video push technology you describe. Try it: Text ROYCE to 68707, reply 'yes' to the opt-in confirmation text you'll receive, and you'll get a short, very cool concert video clip of our client, Prince Royce, pushed right to your phone. Video clip opens up as an MMS message, no apps, taps, craps, or slooooow mobile web downloads, with all those ungodly data charges. Best of all, you don't even need an iPhone to get this video -- even my 7-year old RAZR can play it. Yep, video push now works with smartphones and most dumb ones, too. 95%+ of mobile devices will be able to see and play video clips, optimized automatically to look good on any cell phone. The technology unlocks latent capacities in feature phones you never knew existed. Video push -- Simple, clean, elegant, and here today.