Will iPhone Reignite Interest in Mobile Video?

There are enough signs that Apple’s iPhone, the fast-growing mobile device from the Cupertino-based consumer electronics and computing giant, will give the still-emerging business of mobile video a turbo boost. Here’s why:

Earlier it was reported that some NBC television shows could be streamed directly to iPhone via the browser. In addition, Orb, an Emeryville, Calif.-based startup announced that it had figured out how to stream live video to iPhone and iTouch, on the unlocked devices, often referred to as “jail broken.” (Watch video). But the real boost to Internet video on the iPhone will come later this year, when Move Networks, an American Fork, Utah-based company, will release an iPhone version of its player.

Move founder and CEO John Edwards (no, not that one) stopped by in our office yesterday to meet with Liz and me and give us an update on the state of his company. He coincidentally became the first CEO to have Crash, the GigaPuppy, sit in on the meeting. Even though I was obsessed with why he raised $46 million, towards the end of the conversation, I asked him about his iPhone plans. He said Move is working on the player, but it is still early days — though he did assure us that it would be made available around the time Apple opens up the iPhone sometime later this summer.

Move’s move could have a major impact on the mobile video business. Why? Move’s video technology is used by most major networks to stream shows from their web sites -– ABC, Fox, ESPN and CBS are all Move clients. So essentially what it means is, you could go to, say, the ABC web site and watch an ad-supported episode of Lost by streaming it to the iPhone.

Move’s player can adjust the quality of the video according to the bandwidth available to the client machine. With a 3G iPhone rumored to be launching in June, Move is smart to wait out the release of its client. Even its technology is not going to be able to overcome the lousy experience of watching streamed video over an EDGE network. (Yeah, I tried watching 30 Rock on my iPhone and it sucked.)

Easy access to popular TV content that can be played back over the air without paying for it will prompt a lot of people to give it a shot. And that could spark interest in mobile video, which has been a slow starter in the U.S. market, to put it mildly. Even with the availability of Verizon VCast, Mobi TV and now AT&T’s Media FLO network, a mere 4.5 percent of U.S. subscribers have watched mobile TV, according to research firm M:Metrics. In comparison, a M:Metrics survey shows that nearly 31 percent of iPhone users have watched video on their device, while 21 percent have watched on-demand video or TV programming on their device.
I suspect there is a correlation between the screen size and video watching habits. Using an example of one — in addition to my iPhone, I like watching side loaded video content like Digg Nation on LG Vu and Nokia N95 all the time, mostly because they have screens that don’t make me squint.

One of the reasons people have a lackadaisical attitude towards mobile video is because they don’t want to pay the $10-to-$15 monthly subscription fee. In other words, ad-supported video is the way forward. That is why I think Move’s iPhone-compatible player could do the trick.