Editor’s note: Keynote Systems’ Startup Shootout Index provides some insight into the three-screen challenge now facing anyone with a web presence. It’s the first website performance index to measure load times and completion percentages on desktops, smartphones, and tablets simultaneously. 

VentureBeat is Keynote’s exclusive media partner, so we’ll be bringing you a fresh set of data from Keynote every month. Check out previous Startup Shootout results.

Our digital entertainment category includes some cool services but with one big challenge – how do you most effectively deliver rich, heavy content across mobile devices and 3G networks?

Choosing how to deliver sites across three screens can be a tough call as it is – but in the digital entertainment world it takes on some additional concern. Should developers build a mobile site, a mobile app or a hybrid?

A great and recent article with further thoughts around the topic of mobile sites vs. apps is by Adobe’s Ray Pun.

As we do, he points to the customer base using (or most likely to use) your site, as your guidance.

But bearing this in mind, we see that in the digital entertainment category few of the sites have mobile-optimized home pages for smartphones. This includes MovieClips and playlist.com.

These sites run the risk that Pun identifies in his article: “76% of people won’t even bother trying to use a non-optimized site, or will turn to a competitor instead.”

If startups, and indeed any major site owner, need to make every digital interaction count, then immediately alienating 76% of your potential user base by not having a mobile-optimized web site is a major issue. With the ever growing volume of mobile devices, and the ever growing younger adopter base being mobile-first, any site owner really needs to look hard at the decision not to be mobile-optimized.

But even if visitors do stay with these sites, they still get a degraded experience. MovieClips had an average home page load time of 14 seconds on the iPhone while Playlist.com was even worse at over 20 seconds.

According to Kentico Software research, 44% of consumers will not return to a website that is not mobile friendly. We wondered – how are the other digital entertainment startups doing?

RedBox uses responsive web design (RWD). This means there is only one version of the web page for both desktop and mobile browsers, but the page is designed in a way that it automatically adapts to the screen real estate available. This is extremely helpful for site maintenance (there’s no risk that different versions of the site, mobile and desktop, will become out of sync) but it is not necessarily the best option for performance.

RedBox is still loading 1.5 MBs of content over slow mobile networks for its smartphone users, roughly 7X what Keynote would recommend. As a result, even though the page renders well for a mobile screen, the page load time of 23.5 seconds is bad for user experience.

Meanwhile rdio’s home page will not let you access its service unless you download the rdio native app. You can, however, use the service on the desktop without installing an app. Spotify has the same approach. But these two sites are taking a major gamble.

In a 2013 Adobe Survey, 58 percent of consumers preferred mobile-optimized or regular websites over apps, indicating they might not be willing to download, install, and continually upgrade (mobile) applications.

Direct competitor SoundCloud offers its service using both an app and directly from its mobile web site, giving more options. Indeed SoundCloud stands out from the other sites for a number of positive reasons. It is faster than 10 seconds on average (making it the second-fastest site in the digital entertainment category). It is a mobile-optimized experience, and allows site visitors to snack on their content directly from the mobile web without having to invest in an app install.

Mobile-Optimization Trade Offs

We constantly hear developers ask where they should prioritize their efforts given limited resources.

In this three screen world and the mobile web vs. app debate, our recommendation is of course to let your customer (or potential) customer base be your guide. Especially in this digital entertainment category, which attracts forward-thinking digital users, you are placing yourself at the bleeding edge of user experience – particularly on mobile devices. If you are aiming to attract those early adopter users fast then the best bet is to be in their world.

Keynote tests the sites in the index hourly and around the clock from four locations over the three largest U.S. wireless networks, simulating visitors using three different devices. Data is collected from multiple locations and then aggregated to provide an overall monthly average in terms of both performance and availability.

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