The not-so-distant future of mobile and video

Galia is COO and head of sales for Taptica.
The mobile video advertising ecosystem is headed toward a major eruption. By the end of next year, the industry will take colossal strides to combat fraud and eliminate bogus inventory, while simultaneously working to meet advertisers’ growing demand for mobile video ads. Savvy businesses will continue to buy or build platforms that allow them to offer a complete mobile video ad solution — the content, the audience, and the ad tech — and increase their revenue streams. As with any massive overhaul (and it will be massive), there will be casualties. But, the end result will be more effective and more secure mobile video advertising opportunities to help feed the already burgeoning demand.
Here’s what we know. Advertisers and agencies are scrambling to create or fine-tune their mobile strategies and to contend with the now irrefutable fact that consumers are spending more time on their mobile devices. We’ve been talking about a “mobile-first” media landscape for a while; now it’s time for marketing strategies to catch up with user behavior. Simultaneously, consumer and brand interest in video is mounting, and for basically the same reason: high-quality video is engaging. Neither mobile nor video is without its challenges, but marrying the two helps alleviate some of the issues. Video mobile ads are more engaging than mobile banner ads. Couple that with the rich data we can harness through mobile devices, and you open up video to a host of new marketing use cases. Now we can monitor viewers’ subsequent behaviors and better measure the ROI of our investments. Video isn’t just for brand awareness anymore.
Within the next few years, it’s basically inevitable that the bulk of ad buying, mobile included, will be done programmatically. Spending levels are already soaring. Programmatic buying is lauded for its benefits, which include increased efficiency, more accurate targeting capabilities, and easy scalability. But it’s also rife with fraud. According to research from the Association of National Advertisers and WhiteOps, 23 percent of video ad views are actually from bots. This is simply not acceptable. As an increasing number of brands and agencies look to embrace video advertising, they’ll clamor for more stringent regulations and better protection against fraudulent traffic. They’ll also take a hard look at programmatic trading, the practice of buying media and then reselling it for profit. In the not-too-distant future, 2016 will be the year brands demand more transparency across the board. The writing is already on the wall. BrightRoll has begun cleaning up its traffic and taking steps to educate the market about the ubiquity of fraud. AppNexus, which has been a big player in programmatic trading, made huge strides this year by working to improve the quality of its inventory, limiting media arbitrage and increasing viewability. Perhaps predictably, it’s also shifting its focus toward video.   

Mobile media consolidation

Even with the growing amount of fraudulent mobile video traffic, there is still a pressing supply and demand issue. There’s simply not enough inventory to meet advertisers’ needs. We’re going to have to rethink our definition of “premium” and become more open to running video ads in-stream and alongside user-generated content, a change that’s already underway—just look at the buzz Snapchat’s video ad product is generating.
The increased demand for mobile video will continue to drive up prices for publishers, which is part of the reason why a growing number of companies are working to buy or create quality video content. Mobile media has already begun consolidating, as content distributors and content creators realize they’re more powerful together. Look at AOL’s acquisition of Adapt.TV, a programmatic video ad platform, and Vidible, a content syndication solution for publishers. (Expect to see an increase in the syndication of quality content as one solution to the challenge of meeting expanding demand quickly.) With these moves, AOL now has the audience, content, and technology needed to offer advertisers a full-service ad solution. And don’t forget, it’s owned by Verizon, which recently announced a plan to launch its own Hulu/Netflix-like app (Go90) for streaming mobile video, and also revealed that its focus is on mobile video.
RTL Group’s purchase of SpotXchange last year and Facebook’s acquisition of LiveRail, the third-largest online video advertising management platform, are also harbingers of industry-wide change. Facebook can now extend its video ad reach beyond its platform, and LiveRail is already working to improve the quality of its exchange by cutting out providers who don’t work directly with advertisers. If they manage to improve their supply and leverage Facebook’s in-depth data, the results will be what marketers’ dreams are made of: the ability to reach their target audience via quality mobile video traffic while gaining precise insight into what type of creative is resonating.
These types of intelligent mergers will continue as the industry works to reduce fraud, improve viewability, and better harness data. These changes will punish suppliers with less-than-stellar practices, but the net result will be an industry that’s more mature, regulated, and effective. Mobile video advertising will be a no-brainer investment.

AOL says two-thirds of its audience now comes from mobile

Media and advertising giant AOL is now seeing most of its audience — about two-thirds — coming from mobile devices, the company has shared with Gigaom. That’s up from about half its audience coming from mobile in January 2015.
Verizon-owned AOL has a large stable of high-trafficked digital properties, including the Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, Moviefone, and many more, which have a collective global audience reach of about half a billion people per month, according to comScore. And while it’s not exactly surprising that more people are consuming content via smartphones and tablets, it is significant that AOL now has the audience to support its transformation into a mobile-first company. (That’s something Facebook also recently achieved.)
The heavy mobile growth is thanks to a strategy that began over a year ago that entailed (obviously) a defocus on desktop; strategic partnerships; internal changes; and being acquired by Verizon, according to AOL global head of mobile Chad Gallagher. “There wasn’t a magic bullet, but rather this is the culmination of all those plans finally coming together. The [mobile audience growth] is a good proof point,” he told me.
The larger mobile audience may also help AOL’s new parent company Verizon (as well as AOL itself) justify the content side of the business, even though many speculate that it was most interested in AOL’s ad-tech platform. Digiday reported back in May that AOL had approached Time Inc. about selling the Huffington Post for a cool $1 billion. Similar rumors circulated about a sale of tech news leader TechCrunch, with AOL chief exec Tim Armstrong dismissing both claims and insisting the company would remain in the business of content.
As for advertising, Gallagher said the higher mobile audience adds to recent efforts to further company’s ad business. Specifically, AOL’s agreement with Microsoft to take over most of its ad sales operations back in July, and more recently, closing on the acquisition of Millennial Media. Both of those efforts should help the company better monetize its own content.
The company, however, declined to share any stats on its mobile video audience. Yet, that’s an area of advertising AOL is increasingly interested in (as is the rest of the industry), which is clear from the Go90 ad deal Verizon and AOL made with Publicis Groupe last month.

Mobile video ads are poised to explode—So what’s holding it back?

Josh is chief executive officer at AerServ.
Video has always been one of advertisers’ most powerful engagement tools. And as digital video in general has become a regular aspect of our daily media consumption, advertisers are looking for new ways to leverage it to boost results and gain an advantage over competitors.
Enter mobile video. Last year, a study from digital ad firm Undertone and market research company Ipsos ASI determined that high-impact ads deliver the best brand recall. Not exactly a revelation, but this year, those firms tested the  theory on mobile devices and discovered that the same was true: High-impact ads still deliver the highest engagement and brand recall, regardless of screen size. This is good news for both publishers and advertisers, who need not worry about banners and other traditional formats on mobile; they can still grab attention on a small screen by leveraging targeting technology and compelling video content.
Not only that, but mobile also affords advertisers the ability to target specific users at specific locations like no other medium can. Using device ID, coordinates/ location data, demographic data, browsing behavior and more, advertisers can target at an extremely granular level to hone in on the most qualified audiences to boost efficiency and overall results.
So with all those capabilities and benefits, why hasn’t mobile video spending exploded? Why aren’t advertisers, who are constantly looking for new ways to engage today’s ever-connected consumer, absolutely desperate to get into the mobile video game?
Well, like any emerging technology, mobile video still faces certain challenges that need to be overcome, or at least mitigated, before risk-averse agencies and brands will be eager to take the plunge. A fairly common concern about mobile video is its newness; even the industry old guard is learning about it along with everyone else. And that lack of familiarity among the experts and decision makers, as well as its relative lack of field-testing, is enough to keep it off the budget for another year.
Another key challenge associated with being a relatively recent innovation is the fragmentation of the mobile video market. Creative formats vary across devices and platforms and there is a general lack of standards and best practices for both advertisers and publishers. TV buyers want to reuse their TV spots and desktop buyers want to reuse their desktop videos, neither of which is going to seamlessly fit a mobile platform. Desktop Flash VPAID creatives don’t work in mobile environments either. Mobile VPAID, while standardized via IAB, is still emerging and actually varies wildly per vendor.
And boy are there a lot of vendors. And a lot of devices. The mobile space is getting more complex with every release of a new phone, tablet, operating system or feature upgrade. For advertisers and agencies, it becomes extremely difficult to plan for every possible combination of device, OS and ad format, and it can cause significant hiccups in deploying creative.
Further challenges arise with regard to targeting; while mobile offers highly advanced targeting capabilities, it does also lack transparency with regard to context. Specifically, advertisers cannot necessarily be certain that their ads are not running alongside inappropriate or irrelevant video content. Context is extremely important when it comes to brand integrity and getting your money’s worth out of the ad buy, and some advertisers want to see improvement in this area before investing.
Anyone who has been working in the ad-tech space for more than a few years won’t be surprised by what is perhaps the largest hurdle that mobile video must overcome in order to establish itself in the marketer’s standard arsenal: measurement. Measurement challenges have plagued every traditional and digital advertising medium for years, but mobile engagement actually can be tracked through multiple metrics including clicks, views, leads, installs, purchases, foot traffic, etc.
That said, mobile video measurement is not always a piece of cake. Viewability is the industry’s current favorite metric, but advertisers and publishers alike struggle with what it actually means — at what point is the video ad considered viewable or count as an impression? Some define a viewable impression as three seconds onscreen, but there is still no industry standard. A concept that seems so simple is still being debated due to new technologies like in-feed or “native” video. In addition, common analytics vendors from the desktop space are not yet mature in the in-app space.
For agencies and marketers concerned with justifying their ad spend with tangible, understandable results, the murkiness of mobile video measurement is a significant stumbling block. For vendors and solutions providers, the chief concern is attribution, or making sure they are appropriately credited and compensated for each conversion. It’s not easy for anyone to take a risk on an emerging tech solution when you don’t even have a clear, validated way of gauging its effectiveness and communicating it to the holders of the purse strings.
Mobile video absolutely can be an advertiser’s secret weapon; it is just crucial for those issues to be addressed and clarified if possible. Luckily, there are several ways forward and a plethora of mobile tools available to help get there. Utilize those tools, like the rich interactive video experiences of VPAID and custom video and, if viewability is a concern, many vendors have in-app viewability tools to offer comfort and peace of mind. To deal with creative challenges, it can be useful to partner with a company boasting a solid history of mobile campaign execution, such as Telemetry or Sizmek, and data providers and DMPs such as Neustar and Factual are working every day on ways to improve targeting accuracy and contextual transparency.
Any nascent technology has its growing pains, but the benefits of mobile video are well worth the effort of overcoming those challenges to be at the forefront of an important shift in the industry. More and more tools are emerging for advertisers and publishers to handle the challenges of navigating the still somewhat murky waters of mobile video, but soon enough, consumer response will dictate the industry’s rate of advancement in this area. Your consumers have cut the cord — to the TV, to the desktop — and they are holding devices in their purses and pockets capable of delivering the same positive user experience and even better engagement results. The mobile market is ready, you should get ready, too.

GIF all the things: Imgur unveils video-to-GIF converter

Imgur just gave itself an early birthday present: One week before the popular image hosting service celebrates its sixth anniversary, it unveiled a web-based video to GIF conversion tool Thursday. The new tool makes it easy to create GIFs from any video clip hosted at YouTube or more than 500 other video sites. Imgur bills the converter as the next step to help its users tell stories — but it’s also a bit of a Trojan horse to give Imgur a bigger foothold in mobile.

Imgur's new video to Gif converter.

Imgur’s new video to Gif converter.

The new conversion tool is a remarkably simple way to run videos into GIFs: Users just have to paste a video’s URL into a form field, select a segment of up to 15 seconds, add an optional caption and then let the Imgur servers do their work. As always with Imgur, users don’t have to register, and the result can be freely shared across the web and social networks.

That no-frills approach has helped to turn Imgur into one of the most popular image-hosting destinations on the web. Product and growth director Sam Gerstenzang told me that the site now generates more than 5 billion page views from over 150 million unique users a month. Initially, most of that activity came from Reddit, where Imgur quickly became the most popular image-hosting resource after launching six years ago.

Gerstenzang said that over all of those years, Imgur really just built tools that the community has been asking for, the latest being the new video-to-GIF converter. And it’s true: Animated GIFs have been celebrating a huge comeback over the last few years, fueled largely by Tumblr and Reddit. But by giving people a tool to create GIFs more easily, Imgur is also cleverly embracing another online media shift: People are increasingly consuming their news and feeds on mobile devices, on the go — and chances are that they don’t always have their headphones on.

That’s why some publishers and platforms have started to embrace muted videos. Just think of those clips on Facebook that auto-play, muted, or take a look at the content that folks like AJ+ are creating: Short, shareable clips that combine moving images with big, bold text, easily consumable without the need to actually listen. GIFs are really just a natural extension of this phenomenon. At their core, they are videos without sound, easily consumable when waiting in the line at Starbucks or during the morning public transportation commute.

Quizzed about this, Gerstenzang started to smile. “I think it’s huge,” he said about the mobile opportunity for GIFs, adding that Imgur plans to do a lot more in mobile in the future. Imgur currently does have apps for Android and iOS, but they’re really just app versions of its mobile website. Dedicated, more feature-rich apps could be coming soon, but Gerstenzang declined to share any further details.

Imgur has also been preparing for mobile by making GIFs themselves leaner. “The GIF format is sort of old,” said Gerstenzang. The company introduced a new container format called GIFV late last year that essentially replaces the animated image files with looped videos, which are typically just a tenth of the file’s original size.

Gerstenzang told me that Imgur now keeps three copies of each file, be it an animated GIF uploaded by a user or a GIF created by the new converter: A WebM version, which is the company’s preferred video format; an MP4 version for browsers that don’t support WebM; and an optimized GIF for legacy purposes.

Serving up looping videos instead of animated GIFs helps to speed up viewing on mobile devices, prevents browsers from slowing down, and as a nice side effect also saves Imgur a bunch of money. Gerstenzang didn’t want to elaborate on exactly how GIFV has impacted the company’s bandwidth, but said that it has come with huge cost savings for Imgur.

Special report: How we really use our camera phones

You didn’t need the latest wave of selfie sticks to know that personal media on mobile devices is huge. People are taking photos and videos all the time, and Instagram and Vine have become the new social media darlings. But take a closer look at personal media, and you’ll start to notice some very interesting differences.

iOS users for example are on average taking a lot more photos than Android users, and women are a lot more into collecting visual memories than men. Personal media startup Magisto has been noticing very distinct differences for some time, and recently, the company gathered and shared some of its data and insights exclusively with Gigaom. The results are surprising, and a must-read for anyone building products for personal media or social online.

Now, it’s worth noting that Magisto’s data is somewhat self-selective. The company makes an app that helps you to turn your everyday snapshots and video clips into short, shareable videos, complete with soundtracks and visual effects. It’s safe to assume that people who don’t take any photos at all wouldn’t download Magisto to begin with. However, the company decided to look only at new users to exclude any feedback effects of users taking more photos or videos specifically because they’ve been using the app. Altogether, Magisto analyzed the personal media habits of 66,000 iOS and Android users worldwide for this report.

average

First things first: We really do take a lot of photos. The average user takes 150 new photos during a given month, according to Magisto. That’s about 5 photos a day. Video capturing, on the other hand, is still a lot less prevalent, with users taking on average just 7.5 videos during a given month. In other words, for every single video recorded, people take on average 20 photos. And most of these videos are pretty short: Those 7.5 clips make up just 7 minutes of footage combined.

roll

People don’t just take a lot of photos every month, they also like to collect them and carry them around for some time. The average user has 630 photos and 24 videos stored on their mobile device, with those videos again just amounting for 23 minutes of footage total. Apparently, very few people like to record their very first full-length feature films with their phones.

But these are just worldwide averages, across different device platforms, age groups and gender lines. Dive down a little deeper, and you’ll start to see a lot of very different usage patterns. Let’s begin with one of the biggest lines dividing us as a people: iOS vs. Android.

iOS

iOS users take 65 percent more photos during any given month that their Android counterparts: The average iOS user takes 182 photos per month, while Android users only take 111 photos on average. That discrepancy continues when you look at the size of camera rolls on both platforms: The average iOS device holds 2.3 times as many photos as the average Android device.

There are a number of possible explanations for this. One is that the Android ecosystem doesn’t just include $600 flagship phones, but also very cheap devices, some of which can be had for $50 or less with a prepaid plan. These lower-end devices typically come with a lot less internal storage, which impacts their owners’ abilities to capture personal media. You just won’t take 180 photos a month if your phone constantly complains about running out of storage.

One could also argue that Apple has historically done a great job at making iPhone photos look good, which encourages people to take more photos. Again, some of the more expensive Android flagship phones also take beautiful pictures, but a cheaper Android handset may not.

Female

One’s choice of mobile operating system isn’t the only factor that influences personal media habits — our gender has a lot to do with it as well: Women take on average 47 percent more photos than men, whereas men take 15 percent more videos than women. And the biggest photo lovers are female iPhone users under the age of 25, taking an average of 250 photos per month.

Finding a good explanation for this may be even harder than explaining why iOS users take more photos than Android users (and your chances of offending someone are equally as high), but this discrepancy explains a lot with regards to the types of social and user-generated services popular online today. Just think of Pinterest, one of the most visual social content platforms online, whose user base is reportedly 80 percent female.

The slight male dominance in video recording is also interesting, as it could point to a perception problem for video that may have to do with the way it’s currently being presented in capturing and editing apps. Or maybe it’s just long-ingrained collective gender stereotypes. Just think back to your family parties back in the 1990s or even the ’80s, long before everyone recorded everything with smart phones. That cousin dramatically crawling on the floor with a camcorder in one hand to get the best shot? Likely a guy.

And just for the record: Male Android users take the least amount of photos, with an average of just 90 photos per month.

Male

All of those numbers are global averages, but there are also interesting regional differences. Magisto didn’t share too much of this data with us — the company does have competitors, after all — but it highlighted one interesting outlier: Mobile users in Japan capture a lot more media than anyone else.

The average Japanese camera roll contains 1,500 photos and videos, which is 2.3 times the global average. As in the rest of the world, women under 25 who use iPhones once again capture the most photos — they are just taking even more snapshots than their counterparts in the rest of the world. On average, young female iOS users in Japan take more than 300 photos a month – that’s about ten every single day.

Maybe the rest of the world will catch up to this behavior in the coming years — but it’s likely that differences along gender lines as well as mobile platforms will continue to be a factor for some time, giving startups some cues which users to concentrate one, or even which challenges to tackle in order to close these gaps.

Images and additional reporting by Biz Carson.

Samsung’s new Milk Video app is all about taking on YouTube

Samsung took the next step in its quest to revamp its media services Wednesday with the launch of Milk Video11, a mobile video aggregation app that puts the focus squarely on short-form content. Milk Video aggregates videos from a variety of sources, including YouTube, Vevo, Vice, CollegeHumor, BuzzFeed and AwesomenessTV, and presents them to users in an endless stream that is a bit reminiscent of Instagram or Vine.

Of course, video aggregation apps have been around for a long time, but few if any have managed to attract huge audiences. Samsung wants to differentiate itself from the pack by striking exclusive deals with some of its content partners. Samsung VP of Content and Services Kevin Swint told me Tuesday that Vice will produce an exclusive weekly news show for Milk Video, and that Funny Or Die will produce original short-form content for the service as well.

The app: slick, but still a little limited on the content side

I had a chance to play with Milk Video a little bit Tuesday, and have to say that the app is pretty slick. The main view of the app is a stream of content from sources that a user is following, which can include other Milk Video users as well as channels from a select list of content partners.

A hambuger icon on the upper left corner reveals a menu of channels to subscribe to, and a rainbow-colored navigation bar on the right allows users to scroll through categories of content, including Comedy, Gaming, Sports and Tech. This navigation bar offers some haptic feedback, something that Milk Video has borrowed from Samsung’s Milk Music service. Videos can be swiped away to remove them from the stream, or shared / reposted on Milk or via Facebook or Twitter.

My favorite feature however is the video player, which lets you watch clips in portrait mode while you can continue to browse through the stream. The player also pauses and resumes a video as soon as you tap anywhere on the video, instead of forcing you bring up and then aim for a play / pause button. It’s a small thing that basically just eliminates one tap, but it shows how the folks at Samsung have thought about the design of this app, and optimized it for situation where you may only have two or three minutes. Like when you are standing in line, waiting for your coffee.

I can see Milk Music work great for these kinds of situations. However, the content catalog does still seem a little slim. For example, in the news section, most clips were at least a day old, and almost all of them came from Reuters, which may not exactly meet the tone of Milk Video’s target audience.

The big elephant in the room: YouTube

Which brings up the question: Who did Samsung make this app for? A simple answer is that Milk Video is for Samsung device owners. The app is being distributed via Google Play, but it’s only compatible with Samsung smart phones ranging from the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S3 all the way to the Note 4 and the Galaxy S5. “Our focus right now is to add value to the experience of owning a Samsung device,” Swint said.

That’s the same strategy that led Samsung to launch Milk Music, a Pandora-like music streaming app that’s also exclusive to Samsung devices, earlier this year — and it’s a departure from how Samsung used to approach media services. The company used to run its own music, video and ebook stores, with the goal of competing with established retailers like iTunes and Amazon to further monetize its devices. Samsung closed down its media hubs earlier this year, and struck partnerships with Amazon and M-Go to take over some of its less-lucrative transactional businesses.

But the big elephant in the room for Milk Video is YouTube. The Google-owned video service has become the default destination for all things short-form, but creators have long looked to diversify and possibly get better deals elsewhere. Efforts to take some of the service’s more popular content elsewhere have thus far failed, but that hasn’t stopped others from trying.

Now, you can add Samsung to the list of companies trying to serve up more professional YouTube-like content through its own service. Samsung may sway some of YouTube’s talent because it has both money and an audience, but in the end, it may also need to prove a working business model for publishers to give up on anyone who doesn’t have a Samsung phone.

Check out a few screenshots of Milk Video below: