Commentary

The Big Picture In 2016 Will Really Be The Small Screen

People have been saying for at least a couple of years that no advertiser or content creator that isn’t “mobile first” should change their way of thinking. It will probably be good for them to keep thinking that way in 2016.

There will be lots of predictions for the year ahead, but nothing as pivotal as understanding how much mobile video viewing is exploding. (Less mentioned, and somewhat more mysterious, is the fall-off in tablet viewing.)

Let’s flesh out those screen changes a little:  YouTube says mobile viewers now spend an average of 40 minutes per session, up 50% over a year ago. The number of people watching via mobile had doubled. And YouTube’s revenue from mobile plays has also doubled.

And because mobile viewing is usually fast, fast, fast, content creators now have moments, even "micro-moments", to make their points and advertisers have even a more compacted space to work within. As Greg Jarboe at ReelSEO reported, “most people check their phones 150 times a day, but spend only 177 minutes on their phones per day [and] Google calculates that mobile sessions, on average, are just one minute and 10 seconds long.”

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I think it must be hard for marketers to accept that the viewing experience itself isn’t such a big deal, but that’s true. Maybe that goes right back to the beginning of online video when buffering and worse was so common that anything nominally better was a big plus. YouTube’s earliest days were filled with amateur video, badly shot and dull. 

So as screens got very small, that seemingly lousy viewing environment was no big deal. And phone consumers know, things get better. Smartphone consumers essentially know that the phone they have now will be laughably obsolete by next week. They are eager guinea pigs.

Semrush.com reported: “According to AOL’s latest research on video, people are 4x as likely to watch on a device based on convenience, not viewing experience. Screen size also matters very little to consumers. This means that brands need to shift gears when connecting their creative development with their strategic deployment by providing video content optimized for mobile-first consumers.”

Curiously -- at least to me -- is that while mobile viewing is going fast forward, tablet viewing seems to be more muddled. That was the device, after all, that was intended to be the handy compromise between the small-screen mobile phone and the more unwieldy laptop.

But worldwide, Adobe’s Digital index and Ooyala research cites, at best, flat growth for tablets. Adobe says it has gone from a 13.5% share in last year’s third quarter to 12.6% for the corresponding quarter this year. For a business where up seems to be the only way things can go, that’s a noteworthy stat, but it also speaks to that convenience-over-quality thing.

That's the trend. In the year ahead, everybody from the NFL to Verizon’s Go90 to news will be underscoring the importance of mobile video.

That’s not exactly a thinking-outside-the-box kind of prediction, but it’s what I think 2016 will be all about: Mobile video will be the dominant overriding story of the business. Thinking small and short has never loomed larger.

This column was previously published in Vid Blog on December 29. 2015.
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