Who wants to watch lean-back, long-form video content on a mobile device? More people than we think, and certainly more than wanted to just a few months ago. According to ad network Rhythm New Media, which serves major TV brands on mobile like CBS's TV.com, CW and Sony's Crackle, full-episode views were up 200% on their network in Q2 2011 from just the previous quarter. The company tells me the lift comes from a combination of more video being available on mobile as providers come onto the network, and fast growth in usage among existing TV-powered apps.
The content clearly is getting there. TV.com leads its iPhone app with full recent episodes of "The Good Wife," "NCIS," and "60 Minutes."
Of course, the mobile user may not be leaning back for 20 to 25 minutes at a time. The TV.com app, for instance parses the "60 Minutes" episode I watched into five segments. Rhythm New Media tells me the typical ad load is 8 minutes of ads per viewing hour, still less than a third of the load we find on TV. And Rhythm says its in-stream video ad completion rate is 87%, higher than the online video rates we often see.
Alas, mobile video continues to have as bad a redundancy rate as the Web. I saw the same State Farm "State of Chaos" spot before multiple sections of "60 Minutes" and folded into most of the other episodes. It is a cool ad, yeah, but only the first five times. Still, content beats all. Sony's Crackle video portal hosts the ever-popular "Seinfeld," and Rhythm says two of the ten episodes in its app are exclusive to iOS.
The iPad is also undoubtedly a key driver of full episode-viewing. Rhythm reports that only about 20% of its current user base is accessing video on the Apple tablet. But among the apps that serve video onto both phone and iPad, 40% of the views are coming from the iPad. Large as that number is, I find the smartphone's 60% share more impressive.
The old adage that resolution is more important than screen size surely applies here. The displays have become so good and pixel dense, with such good shadow detail and refresh capabilities that they can carry material that would have seemed disorienting just a few years ago.
I have been covering and watching mobile video since before VCast first tried squeezing Fox "Mobisodes" onto two-inch, low-res LCDs, and mspot was carving martial arts films into scores of three-minute shards for phone viewing. Even a standard night scene was pretty much mud back then. God help you if the original video included a fast cut or rapid pan. Grab the Dramamine.
Watch TV on a cell phone, we thought in 2006? You were either crazy or had a strong stomach.