How To Keep Pace With The Rise Of Mobile Video

I’ve got two daughters, one seven, the other 12. Between them, they watch less than five hours of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel programming a month.

In spite of an increase in the number of devices capable of watching professionally-produced video, my kids’ viewing habits have changed. The older one prefers to spend her screen time Skyping with friends. The younger one likes watching videos of American Girl dolls being “unboxed” and crudely-produced fan fiction shorts involving American Girl dolls.

That’s shocking when I consider how dominant networks like Nick and Disney were with girls in my daughters’ demographic just 10 years ago.

With that as my personal context, I wasn’t surprised to see this report by Millward Brown that shows that the time per day spent with phones and tablets (197 minutes) now exceeds time spent watching television (113 minutes).

Yet advertisers haven’t kept up. Their ad spending on television continues to far exceed spending on mobile devices, with 2/3rds of total spend still going to TV.

This article makes all the right points explaining what needs to happen for mobile to become a more attractive media for advertisers. We mobile marketers need to break old digital and video habits, embrace short-form video, and consider that our audience might be interacting with more than one device at a time.

The story omits a larger point, though. Television isn’t dominant purely because of inertia in the advertising industry or just because mobile video remains imperfect. Television advertising is popular because thus far, nothing else has been able to surpass its power to engage audiences.

That’s because TV’s large screens support one behavior at all times: watching video. By contrast, if we were to plot mobile device usage by category and time of day, it might show that users watch video on their phones during their commute, check emails while working, play mobile games on breaks, listen to music on the way home, and then use Twitter and Amazon apps while watching TV.

The result, if my math is right, is that only five percent of all the video people watch every day happens on a mobile device. That’s not so much an indictment of mobile video as it is an illustration of how these devices are used in such diverse ways. Video is just one of them.

In other words, mobile devices are so multi-purpose that they diffuse their power to engage in the single-minded way televisions do.

Mobile video may not yet match television for engagement, but I believe its popularity will grow quickly and be aided by increasing network bandwidth. Here are a few ways for mobile marketers to embrace the medium more effectively and get a leg up on their slower moving competition.

  • Abandon the 30 second format: Vine and Instagram show the short way, with six and 15 second video formats, respectively. Conversely, companies like Red Bull and GoPro produce clips that can last two or three minutes. Either way can work, especially since it’s not as easy to multitask on a phone or tablet as it is on a PC or TV.
  • Make sure you produce the video in mobile device-friendly formats and publish with short, punchy titles, the kind you could easily post to Twitter.
  • Keep the volume down: I live in New York, and I’ve made the mistake of watching mobile video with the volume up while riding Metro North. A passenger complained, prompting a visit from a train employee and an announcement over the PA to keep our phones on mute. If you can create video that doesn’t require audio, you’ll entertain passengers like me and help us avoid the conductor’s wrath.
  • Include a call-to-action: online videos enable you to invite viewers to tap to visit a website or Facebook page. It can be an effective way to encourage registrations and execute in-bound marketing.

Companies such as can help advertisers buy mobile and digital video across devices. Increasingly, buying media like this is like buying stocks; a trading desk handles the work and cuts out the middleman, so you get to invest more of your money on the ad creative and the media buy.

What are your kids watching, and how are they watching? How much more mobile-centric will it be in 10 years? It may be risky to make big predictions based on the behaviors you see in your house, but it sure looks like my kids aren’t unique. The shift away from TV is happening. Be the smartest marketer in the room with your mobile video strategy and keep ahead of the mobile video migration.

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