Mobile App Strategy: Power to the People

Any TV executive who still doubts the necessity of finding the right app technology and mobile strategy for the programming they are planning to launch in 2013 should take a close look at a Nielsen report issued this fall. It found that the number of app users in the U.S. rose 85% from 55 million in July 2011 to 101.8 million this past July.

And consumers are not just downloading to crowd their screens. Smartphone users, who accounted for 55% of mobile phone subscribers, spent 129.4 billion minutes with mobile apps in July, up 120% from a year earlier.

As mobile app strategies move from experiments targeting early adopters into the mainstream, several key tech trends for mobile apps will be important to monitor in 2013.

One trend will be technologies for monetizing content delivered via apps. With three-quarters of all mobile subscribers aged 25-35 owning a smartphone and operators rolling out faster 4G networks that can deliver high-quality HD video, advertisers are already showing more interest in mobile advertising, notes Cameron Clayton, president of the digital division at The Weather Co.

“There were numerous seven-figure IOs [ad insertion orders] coming in for the fourth quarter, so the money is on the way,” Clayton says, adding that ad revenue is still “nascent” and significantly lags behind usage.

To help push the evolution along, Adobe, SeaChange, Elemental and a number of other vendors have recently launched systems for automatically inserting ads into content that is being delivered to mobile and other Webconnected devices.

“One of the important components of getting the content that consumers want on more devices is finding better ways to monetize it,” says Jeremy Helfand, VP, video monetization, at Adobe, which has developed an end-to-end solution for delivering, managing and monetizing content to multiple platforms called Project Primetime.

The push to boost revenue is also putting more emphasis on multiplatform and TV Everywhere technologies, as programmers ink deals that tie their mobile offerings to larger carriage deals with multichannel providers.

Clayton says The Weather Co. is planning a TV Everywhere app in 2013 and that the programmer will be expanding the amount of live streaming it provides, most likely as part of its deals with operators.

The Fox network recently launched its Fox Now app, which is designed to provide a second-screen complement to live TV viewing. That app currently allows users to buy merchandise tied to some shows, but the network is also planning to add access to full episodes a day after they air as part of TV Everywhere deals, notes David Wertheimer, president of digital for Fox Broadcasting Co.

“TV Everywhere is going to be a huge focus for us for the next 12 months,” he says. “We were the first broadcast network to roll it out and we think the timing is right to make it more widely available.”

Operators and programmers are also looking to improve the quality of TV Everywhere apps. Adobe’s Helfand notes that during the 2012 Olympics the software developer worked with Comcast and Cablevision to offer automatic authentication, which boosted usage.

In another notable effort to simplify the cumbersome process of authenticating a user’s subscription, Synacor recently introduced a “Cloud ID” product that lets TV Everywhere users sign in with their favorite social networking accounts, notes Jaafer Haidar, VP of mobile at the company, which handles authentication for Dish Network and a number of other operators and programmers. “It reduces a lot of the friction and confusion facing consumers trying to get access to TV Everywhere content,” he says.

Improved social tools and second-screen applications will become even more important in 2013, says D.P. Venkatesh, CEO of mPortal, which builds social TV applications and recently launched the secondscreen app ScreenBee.

As more people view content via apps, “this changes the way people discover content,” Venkatesh says. “The social aspect becomes more and more of a factor in a show’s success. The shows that people are talking about on Twitter and social media have a high correlation with their success on TV.”

That dynamic convinced Fox to make social media tools and engagement a key part of its app strategy, Wertheimer says. “We are the No. 1 most social network and we spent a lot of time thinking about how we can extend that lead because the social experience of watching TV is increasing,” he says.

Phil Costa, director of product management for App Cloud at Brightcove, notes that the company’s TV Everywhere solutions include a second-screen application that allows users to take content from one device and easily move it onto a TV screen.

Discovery Networks International has already deployed Brightcove’s application for a dual-screen catchup service for DMAX Italy. “We see more broadcasters and content owners getting interested in that model because it has the portability of the tablet but also takes advantage of the large screen,” Costa says.

Noting that active worldwide users of smart TVs will pass the 100 million device mark in 2013, Michael Lantz, CEO and founder of smart TV app developer Accedo, also expects major improvements in apps and smart TVs.

In 2013, Lantz believes, multichannel operators and TV manufacturers will establish much closer ties so that smart TVs will work like traditional set-top boxes in the home. “We will see an increasing amount of pay TV providers and media companies moving into smart TVs, either in exclusive partnerships with device manufacturers” or to launch over-the-top services outside their service areas, Lantz says. “In 2013, smart TVs will be powerful…[over-the-top] devices with full capabilities of providing…a pay TV service.”

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