Mobile storytelling may be catching on in my family. Well, I mean mobile stories by my daughter and wife that don’t involve tales of my purported gadget zaniness and QR-snapping excesses. My wife still marvels at the fact that we sat one evening last winter in the living room watching the full first episode of “Saturday Night Live” (with George Carlin), which first ran during our respective teens years, on the iPhone.
Okay, let me amend that, lest she read this. My teenage years of the mid ‘70s. Cradle-robber that I am, she was but a child during the early days of "SNL". Couldn’t even stay up that late, I am told.
Anyway, I had the iPhone 4 propped up between us and we sat through the entire episode on the hulu+ mobile app. It still seemed unlikely to her (to me, even) that anyone, let alone a couple, would watch a full hour of TV programming on a smartphone. But there you are.
She, of course, claims to have enjoyed the close cuddling time. I marveled at the use case and the level of engagement with a diminutive screen. It was one of those rare instances where our interests overlapped regarding technology, so we continued to savor it.
But we may not be alone. A new study from digital video tech company Ooyala shows that in the third quarter of 2011, levels of engagement with video content on mobile outpaced the desktop. This is a bit of a shocker. According to its survey of the providers working on its own network of content partners (not comprehensivem to be sure) 52% of the hours spent with video on the desktop were with clips shorter than three minutes, compared to only 42% of the time spent with video on mobile. Less surprisingly, such short-form video comprised only 29% of tablet video viewing time, and for connected TV devices like game consoles, it was down to 6%.
“Desktops or laptops are far more likely to be used to watch short clips,” the report says. “By contrast, longer form videos represent a bigger share of the hours played on non-desktop devices.” Almost a third of video viewing time on mobile devices is going to clips longer than 10 minutes. On tablets that share goes up to 42%. The usual caveats apply when using metrics from a single solutions provider, and the company client list may be highly selective. But Ooyala data is covering about 100 million uniques.
The rich engagement for video content on tablets is not that surprising, since we already know people are using them as portable TVs for on-demand viewing of long-form programming from Netflix or the network TV apps. But mobile engagement is a bigger surprise. Running the numbers a little differently to show average time per play of video on different desktop and mobile platforms came in about even, Ooyala says. The really interesting difference comes in the completion rate, where almost twice as many mobile viewings (just under 40%) got to the ¾ mark in a clip, compared to just under 20% of desktop.
We might speculate about the different use cases involved here. Sure, the daytime desktop user is likely involved in other things (work, task-driven searching, etc.). And the overall volume of video viewing is still occurring on the traditional Web, where many short clips are much more easily accessible in a faster way. In other words, one can imagine flipping through more clips for shorter periods of time because the platform is suited for rapid video grazing , trying out more clips you may not like.
Again, I’d guess that the mobile platform simply requires a greater commitment to the video one chooses. The relative sluggishness of the networks, limitations of interface, etc. suggests that users are self-selecting and filtering out more dross on a desktop than they would be willing to try on a mobile device.
All that said, what is most striking is the level of commitment to a handheld video experience once someone settles on a video. In some ways the same rules of focus and lack of clutter that rule the rest of the mobile world apply as well to video. There is simply less distraction here. If a media company or marketer makes the experience really worthwhile and can telegraph that to the user, then video could actually engage the viewer more on a smartphone than on the spacious but cluttered desktop.
If I can get my wife to watch a full episode of "SNL" on a 3.5-inch screen, then that is saying something about the potential here.
“Who is that?”
“OK, OK. Are you getting anything out of this?”
“Well I was chilly. Now I am warmer.”
Maybe I need to recalibrate my focus group protocols.