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Mobile video is having a moment, thanks to improvements in smartphone cameras, new apps that are changing the way we consume media, and our collective movement to the second screen. And though the transition feels natural — inevitable even — these changes in how we interact with and produce video seem to be ushering in a new golden age.
The YouTube era
If you remember the early YouTube days, back before Michelle Phan had her own video network, it was pretty crude. Videos were shot on low-definition webcams with choppy production and a badly cut soundtrack — and that was if you really knew what you were doing. YouTube democratized video creation and opened up a new way to view content. It gave anyone the opportunity to be a television personality, and success on the platform was driven by merit. Nearly a decade later, the platform has turned a number of Internet content creators into full-blown stars, and it’s changed the way we watch video.
But Internet video is settling into maturity — just look at the slowing growth of online video revenues. Between 2010 and 2012 video revenues online jumped from $1.6 billion annually to $4.68 billion annually. In the second quarter of 2014 online video revenue grew 23 percent year over year, but according to the Deloitte and AOP Digital Publishers Revenue Index Report that was the slowest growth the industry had seen in a year. Online video still has room to grow, but the big push may be over.
Moving to mobile
What’s more, viewers increasingly have their eyes on another screen — their phone’s. More and more people are gaming from their phones, reading from their phones, checking email, engaging socially, and watching video on their phone and companies are taking note. Last week, ad platform Opera Mediaworks noted that mobile video ads are five times as big as they were a year ago.
“For the first time, in 2014, we did something more than watch TV. Now, with mobile, digital [screen] time is greater than TV,” Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s SVP of mobile and emerging products, said to me during a recent interview. Yahoo has been explicit about its interest in growing mobile video. In the last year the company has scooped up mobile analytics startup Flurry and video ad platform BrightRoll to build out its advertising division. The company is also doubling down on video by adding original programming to Yahoo Screen and creating talk shows linked to its digital magazines.
Facebook, too, has its sights set on mobile video advertising. In July of last year the company acquired a video ad platform called Liverail. Already, mobile ads make up over 70 percent of ad revenues for the social network, and the company revealed in January that more than 65 percent of video is viewed on mobile.
Not only are the obvious players like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu hunkering down on video, but even surprising contenders are throwing their hats in the ring. Overstock was reportedly developing a video streaming service last year and now rumor has it that music hub Spotify is looking to expand into video.
The Snapchat effect
No doubt the reason that a more diverse crop of companies are creating video content for mobile is because of the large highly engaged audience that mobile attracts, but there’s also something else. Mobile apps are democratizing video in a way that people haven’t seen since YouTube emerged in 2005.
Ephemeral picture and video messaging Snapchat has really been at the forefront of changing people’s behavior around video. The app initially became popular for sending your friends goofy pictures of yourself that would instantly disappear after being used. Later, it added video messaging. Snapchat essentially gave people permission to be authentically silly on camera, because they didn’t have to worry about the video sticking around or going viral. Snapchat harnesses the power of the inside joke.
Now Snapchat has grown into a full-blown media hub that lets people view trending snaps from around the world and video content from big names like CNN, Vice, and ESPN. Its rise to success may have both incited and primed us for the development of a new type of video app.
In the last couple months, two new apps, Periscope and Meerkat, have become the talk of the tech world. The apps both enable instant mobile livestreaming. With the press of a button a person can livestream their life in the moment and push that livestream out to their band of followers on Twitter, and more recently Facebook. These apps are very “of the moment” in that they require a user who is eager to broadcast their life and willing to be their most authentic self in front of a large audience.
This is just the start
Clearly, these apps have not been brought about by Snapchat’s influence alone. There were plenty of livestreaming apps before Periscope and Meerkat. One app alone didn’t create an environment where a large number of people would want to livestream and watch other people’s livestreams.
But the other notable factor is the advancement in cellphone technology. Mobile phone cameras have gotten so much better that you could conceivably shoot a very professional-looking video right from your phone. Cellular networks are also far more reliable than they’ve ever been before and Wi-Fi is nearing ubiquity in major cities.
The coming together of all these elements has created an environment that feels like the early days of web video, but a lot sleeker and, frankly, more accessible. We’ll likely see video content developed in ways we’ve never seen before, which means big opportunities for media companies and advertisers alike.
But it’s the explosion of individual creativity — one that’s already underway — that we’re especially excited about.
After all, today’s Snapchatter could be tomorrow’s media mogul.
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