Will The Shift To Streaming Via Mobile Devices Help Sustain Physical Media?

The ‘connect anywhere’ capabilities of tablets and smartphones are enabling a revolution in how content is consumed and, in turn, changing how viewers interact with that content. Could these shifts in consumer behavior have the secondary effect of helping to sustain physical media?

Increasingly, viewers are leaving the living room TV behind and using their personal mobile devices to access entertainment. Home Media Magazine recently discussed the findings of a report commissioned by Viacom which “…found that 15% of full-length TV show viewing occurred on the tablet and not the PC or laptop.”

Others are forecasting that this trend will only continue and increase. EWeek.com noted, “Market research shows that over the next five years, the number of people watching video content online could grow as much as 50 percent, and a significant number of them will be doing so on connected devices like tablets, IPTVs and smartphones,”  With forecasts estimating that 119M tablets will ship this year, we will likely only see an acceleration of the trend.

Yet even more importantly, the use of mobile devices is also causing viewers to adjust in their viewing behavior as well: “…Completion rates [of video ads] on mobile devices are the highest of any environment with 94 percent, suggesting that mobile viewers are more engaged and open to watching ads on the go exchange for the content they want” [Emphasis added – Ed.)…Moreover, live content continues to drive the highest engagement rates, compared with video-on-demand (VOD) content, the report said. The completion rate of video ads in live content now reaches 85 percent, almost one-quarter higher (23 percent) than ads within VOD content. This suggests viewers understand they may miss their opportunity to see the content once the live event is over, so they are more willing to stay focused during commercial breaks.”  (EWeek.com)

This trend may prove to be a significant benefit for marketers as viewers home in on content which is interesting to them, thus passively or actively opting into the delivery of messages which are more precisely and accurately targeted. Even as DVRs are diluting the ability of marketers to deliver messages to viewers via broadcast programming, this uptick in narrowcasting, of individualized streaming experiences, may mitigate the overall effect.

As the entire home entertainment industry sees a greater shift from physical media to virtual, the effect these shifts in viewing behavior — from the living room to the mobile device, from the communal experience to the individual, from the culture of marketing awareness to one of tolerance or even acceptance — may in turn have a significant impact on the quality of the viewing experience. While our ability to access content may become ubiquitous, viewers may be increasingly vulnerable to the the agenda of the servicing entity, data caps and throttling which may NOT be about creating a great experience, but instead may be about monetizing viewers.

Could this provide the impetus for a modest backlash which sustains physical media among viewers concerned with quality and an uncompromised experience? I’ve written here before that physical media such as DVD and Blu-ray have their own advantages over streaming in terms of quality and cost-effectiveness.  Just as vinyl records are experiencing a niche resurgence, physical media may continue to serve a purpose for market segments such as the avid fan, the collector, those who don’t have broadband (or connectivity) and those looking for the best possible home theater experience.

It’s tempting to think that streaming as a content delivery platform will obliterate physical media and that optical media will become the 21st century equivalent of a clay tablet, but I think it’s a little too early to count physical media out entirely. Perhaps 15 or 20 years from now, when 100MB broadband is everywhere and public WiFi is a right, perhaps then we’ll see every movie and TV show ever made immediately available via instantaneous streaming.

Until that day, however, let’s not dismiss DVD and Blu-ray with such casual certainty. However uncertain the future of physical media is, it still has a future.