Video Essentials

The Mobile Video Strategy Guide for SMBs

“Mobility is paramount to any online video strategy today,” says Matt Smith, vice president for Internet TV solutions at Envivio. “The hockey stick and usage patterns that we’ve seen over the past 18 to 24 months have been quite dramatic. Looking at forecasts from Cisco and others for how that’s going to evolve over the next 24 months can be quite staggering.”

We wanted to present a complete strategy guide for small- and medium-sized businesses that need to reach customers with video and mobile devices, so we turned to an expert in the area. Smith was happy to sit down and share his knowledge with the reader.

Customers of all sizes need a mobile video strategy, notes Smith, but for this feature we’ll small- to mid-sized companies that aren’t sure where to begin.

Certainly, many smaller companies simply use YouTube for free video hosting. Since YouTube streams in mobile device-friendly formats, is the mobile strategy complete for those companies?

“From a fundamental technology perspective, I think the answer is yes,” says Smith, although he advises YouTube users to make sure their videos really are accessible on all popular devices.

YouTube, however, is not the path for everyone. It’s a catch-all service, Smith notes, and the online video giant, but companies that care about owning and operating the entire value chain will want to look to paid solutions.

To get started on a strategy, first think how your customers will view your videos.

“Identify the device universe that is really most fitting to the business in question,” says Smith. “The biggest problem people make is what I call spraying the room with a shotgun — trying to reach every handset, building a matrix of everything from theĀ  Nokia N-series all the way up to the new Motorola Razr that was just announced.”

When that happens, people get lost in the capabilities and needs of each particular phone. That’s not the way to go about it. You won’t be able to stream to every single phone on the market, so put your effort where it will do the most good.

Matt Smith

“It’s much easier to look at it from a 35,000-foot perspective and say, ‘If I do Flash — whether it’s the HTTP dynamic or the old RTMP Flash — and if I do Windows Media/Silverlight/Smooth Streaming, and if I do the HLS Apple flavor, can I reach the greatest swath of mobile devices?’ The answer is generally yes,” says Smith.

Once you know what smartphones and tablets you’d like to reach, streaming to set-top boxes is a by-product. We’re only recently starting to see unification over formats and codecs that makes the area a little less fractured than it used to be. Companies no longer need separate workflows for different types of devices.

“Convergence became a reality and what that means is that we folded these workflows together so that people don’t have to think about having and caring for separate workflows,” says Smith. “We folded them down into one because our customers have demanded that.”

Smith has helped many companies navigate the ocean of mobile devices. “When I talk to customers about a mobile strategy, number one you identify the offering. Is it live and linear? Or is it on-demand? Then plug in the parts and components underneath it,” he says.

Translation: Do you plan to show live video or clips you’ve already recorded? That info, plus the devices you want to reach will lead you to the right streaming solution for your needs.

Work with an OVP (online video provider) or CDN (content delivery network) to start streaming to mobile devices. Smith favors CDNs, and says they’re even right for small businesses. A good CND knows all the solution providers in the industry, he says, and can help businesses strategize and figure out their needs.

The Anytime Viewer

With people accessing the Net on more devices and in more places, being able to reach customers on anywhere is critical for businesses

“There’s been this massive sea change in the way people consume content today,” explains Smith. “For a small business, I think the thing they should understand is that — like the big media business — we’re going away from a universe where you’re targeting prime time and more targeting my time.”

As little as three years ago, the whole family gathered in one room to watch television, he explains. That set was the center of the media universe. Now, with more “my time” viewing, people can watch shows on any screen whenever they like. The screen could be anything from a compact mobile phone to a super-sized home TV.

But anytime viewing isn’t limited to entertainment. If you own a restaurant, for example, you need your videos to play on mobile devices so that people can see them when they’re out shopping and pull out their phones to browse for a good place to eat. Don’t limit your video viewing to just desktops and notebooks, because that’s not always where your audience is.

“The eyeballs are moving,” says Smith. “We know that the usage patterns are changing and that people are consuming content anytime, everywhere.”

When planning your mobile strategy, you also need to consider the demographic of your target audience. There’s a lot of talk now about the “first screen” and “second screen,” where the first screen usually refers to the home TV and the second screen a computer or mobile device. But not everyone has the same first screen.

“I would submit to you that the definition of that term varies greatly by demographic,” says Smith. “A critical thing in terms of formulating strategy is to figure out the first screen: where is the primary screen that this content is going to be consumed on, in addition to the other screens that they’re going to deliver to. Mobility is critical to strategy and should be one of the first things that goes down on the paper when you break the pen out.”

To an older customer, the first screen is likely a large living room TV. To someone in their twenties, it could well be a tablet or laptop computer.

When you stream to the three major mobile platforms, as mentioned above, you can reach 85 to 90 percent of all the mobile audience, says Smith. Network capacity may well put a crimp in everyone’s mobile plans. He notes that AT&T’s 3G network is currently at 80 to 90 percent capacity, while only 9 percent of people globally have smartphones. With adoption likely to increase quickly, the networks are going to need a lot more capacity. Carriers are moving to 4G systems for a home broadband-like experience, but the transition will take years. Until then, it will be hard for the carriers to keep up with demand.

Once you’re streaming to mobile, look to the analytics reports offered by your OVP or CDN to get as much information as you can about your viewers. Work with a marketer, Smith advises, to spread the word about your offerings with local coupon deals and local apps.

“If you’re trying to be very mobile-centric, and identify a strategy and execute it and measure it, my thought is that you should look at consumption patterns for the mobile videos you’ve created as opposed to just the ones that sit on the web presence and are consumed in a different fashion,” says Smith. “Secondly, do things like use the GPS functionality in some of these handset and tablets, so that if someone’s in proximity to a business, you can do something unique using those coordinates.”

mDialog, a company based in Toronto, Onterio, is doing that kind of thing with Apple iOS apps. It offers such precise targeting, says Smith, that marketers can send special deals to people sitting in different part of a football stadium. Then, they can measure the results to see which version performed better.

Connected TVs and set-top boxes also offer promise for small- to medium-sized businesses, Smith says, although the promise is largely offering geographically-targeted ads like cable TV currently offers. It’s still early for connected TVs, but he thinks that small businesses will become big advertisers on them.

“I think we’re still building the pyramid, right? We’re still just putting the keystones in, essentially,” says Smith.

Some set-top boxes, like those from Roku, allow companies to create their own channels. Smith wouldn’t advise that unless you have a lot of compelling content.

“Get with someone who’s really got paradigm-shifting, innovative ideas. That gets into the marketing realm, somebody who’s got those really interesting ideas who specializes in viral thinking,” he adds.

Customer Knows Best

While you’re creating a mobile strategy, don’t neglect what can be an incredibly helpful source of information: you own customers. Talk to them and listen to how they access the Web when away from home.

“Eyeballs are moving,” Smith reiterates. Traditional broadcasters are going to have to understand the value of anytime, anywhere streaming. Even small businesses will be able to benefit.

“Think about ways that you can embrace this disruptive change and steer the ship,” says Smith. “The other analogy is, the wave is coming. Are you going to jump up on it and surf or are you going to get taken by the undertow and spit out the other side?”

If you have mobile strategy questions for Smith, leave a comment bellow.


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