Chapter 5 - The New Broadcasting

The author suggests that smartphones are "inherently" consumption devices when it comes to content.

(EN: Which I don't quite understand, as they are mainly a personal communication device, and many smartphone users enter content in the form of text, photos, and video to share with others. Granted, if they view 100 photos for every one that they upload, then they are consuming more than producing, but my sense is that this misses a very important and idiosyncratic point. How many people produced content for television, radio, or even the Internet? Mobile is highly productive by comparison to the consumptive media.)

(EN: Given that I disagree with the premise of this chapter, it will likely be rough - I will attempt to document the author's point of view without further intrusion.)

Content: Still King, and Still the Same

The way in which people consume content on a mobile device is not very different to the way they have consumed it in other media: the user chooses content (an article, a movie, a bit of music) and then consumes it passively. The Internet provide more content to choose from, but did not otherwise alter the nature of the experience. Mobile enables them to consume content at a time and place of their choosing, but also does not alter the nature of the experience.

Consider this: the Sony Walkman gave people the ability to take their music with them, consisting of a selection as large as the number of cassette tapes they were willing to carry. The iPod was essentially the same, though it replaced the cassette tape with a hard drive so they could carry more music. Mobile players that access music on remote data sources provides a functionally infinite number of selections, but does not change the experience of consuming music on a portable device.

Watching TV and Reading on a Phone

Mobile, like the Internet, replicates some features from previous media: people still read, listen to audio, watch video, send emails and text messages, and perform other tasks that were previously done in older channels. It's implied that mobile will evolve away from this in time. The other side of the argument is that older media will remain - people still watch television on a television set because the Internet and Mobile are not very good at delivery for reasons that technology will not and cannot overcome.

However, the argument of whether mobile will replace older channels is largely moot - people consume text and media programming on the mobile device, even if they are not making a permanent switch. And so, many materials are being converted for consumption on smartphones, often in a hasty and slipshod manner.

The author mentions some of the present technologies being used to serve old-media content and some Internet capabilities to the mobile platform, with varying degrees of success. Audio and video delivery to the mobile device is actually quite good. Text, email, and Webpage content is rather awful. Text messaging on mobile is much lauded, but inconvenient in maintaining more than a single thread.

A separate factor is the willingness of the user to engage in certain tasks on mobile: technology may provide a new option, but users may not adopt it. In particular, mobile users consume small amounts of information intermittently and do not engage with their devices for long and uninterrupted periods of time. Neither is the performance of certain activities permissible and safe in public locations.

Thus considered, some content is unsuited to delivery on mobile: experiences that require more information than the small screen can accommodate, those that require a significant investment of time, and those that are meant to be consumed by multiple people at once will likely never gain widespread adoption on the mobile platform.

With this in mind, publishers and service providers need to be attentive to the content they shovel onto the mobile platform - whether people are likely to find it useful and usable before a project is undertaken, whether they actually use it and are satisfied by it after the service is launched. This will be highly idiosyncratic to any given audience and service.

Mobilizing the Book Experience

When a new medium adopts content from an older one, it tends to go through a slow transformation. At first, the content is ported from one medium to another as-is (consider a PDF version of a magazine). Later, the content is adapted to the capabilities of the channel and the behaviors of the users (the magazine is divided into articles that can be searched and scanned online) to make it more usable.

Given the limitations of the smartphone (the small screen size and inconvenience of search, navigation, and side-by-side comparison) and the way in which users consume content on the device (intermittent and interrupted consumption of small amounts) the has been largely unsuccessful for delivering content such as books or magazines. Instead, specialized appliances have been developed: the Kindle and Nook e-book readers, which have been highly successful in delivering text content.

(EN: That likely needs to be qualified, as they are highly successful in delivering some kinds of text content, namely leisure reading materials that users read as a single thread without taking notes or referring to other sources of information. For studious reading, paper and Internet still hold sway.)

The author suggests that text will be augmented with media and other features using technology that allows the publisher to integrate more graphics and media files to augment the text content, and seems really jazzed about "ScrollMotion" technology, which enables augmentation as well as annotation, search, bookmarking, and other features that allegedly enhance the reading experience.

(EN: Mixed media presentation was very popular on iPad for a while, but usability statistics demonstrated that most users were ignoring the augmentations. There is the argument that publishers did this badly, such that the media added no value to the content and was regarded as an annoying and pointless distraction, and that someone might do a better job of it - implying that users would value it if it were executed better. However, that's speculative: no publisher has done it well enough to sustain interest beyond the novelty phase and users have been so frequently disappointed that it would be hard to get them to try again.)

One interviewee mentioned a drawback to conversion: that new media often omit parts of the experience that users value. Consider that many music enthusiasts enjoy the cover art and liner notes that used to come with albums, tapes, and discs - this has been largely omitted by iTunes, with the exception of a small and distorted image of the album cover.

(EN: The authors aver "this was not a conscious decision" but I disagree, as nothing about software development is accidental. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the development team decided they were not important parts of the experience and chose to leave them out, and many customers implicitly validated that decision by accepting their software. When any essential quality of the experience is left out, customers will reject a new technology - but customers have different levels of tolerance.)

(EN: The authors stray into the argument of replacement, and the notion that paper publishing will "go away" but their speculation is entirely moot. The diminished demand for paper publications is evidence that many users prefer the new medium, but the fact that demand has not entirely disappeared but has leveled off at a lower level is also evidence that there is still a significant number of readers who prefer paper. So long as that number can sustain publishing at a profitable level, paper will remain.)

There is also a brief mention of some of the problems of porting paper to pixels, namely control over the dissemination of content. When the content was tied to a tangible object such as a book or diskette, it was easy for publishers to control distribution and ensure a majority of the audience paid for the experience. Now that content is digital, it is more easy for others to copy and disseminate without the publisher's permission - and this has been an ongoing problem.

Constant Content

The author compares mobile content to "constantly snacking" instead of having a full-course meal. The mobile user seems to grab a variety of information from various sources intermittently. Mobile consumption is not planned or coordinated, and does not have a defined beginning and end - it is a slow-motion scavenger hunt for random odds and ends.

(EN: That's a bit of an exaggeration - it's a series of brief encounters rather than an ongoing engagement. It would also be fair to say that reading is scavenging, as no-one plans every book they will read in their lifetime and consumes a broad and jumbled variety in aggregate. With mobile, it's merely more frequent consumption of smaller amounts, but it's really not that different otherwise.)

The author then turns to the notion of aggregation services, which gather content for users. Essentially, these services save the user the time and effort of searching for content by automatically gathering the content that may be of interest to them - based on preferences the user presets and an analysis of their behavior. These services are particularly valuable to mobile users because of the short engagement with mobile: by the time a person would find something they want by searching and paging through results, something else in their environment has likely taken their attention away from their mobile device.

Services such as Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Pandora, BlueFly, and Outbrain all attempt to offer suggestions to their users based on their behavior and that of users deemed to be "similar" to them. (EN: And with varying degrees of success. People with narrow and conventional tastes are generally well served, but those with broader and less conventional tastes are very often disappointed.)

A common and unfortunate tendency of content providers is to make a poor transition to any new channel, merely attempting to move existing content onto a new medium without adaptation in a manner that is minimally functional and extremely awkward, then later to adapt it. The problem, as usual, is that users who have a bad initial experience are less likely to return at a later time to see the improvements that have been made.

The publishing revenue model is also problematic for mobile. Readers who tolerated advertising on paper were annoyed by it on the Web, and are even less tolerant of advertising on mobile, given that both screen space and attention are at a premium and advertising is, by definition, a distraction from their desired goals. Where users are unwilling to pay for content and intolerant of paid advertising, publishers are left without a means of generating revenue in the channel.

Video on Mobile

When television was invented, it was proclaimed that movie theaters would be put out of business. Of course, that did not happen - and neither is it likely that users will transition entirely to the mobile channel for video consumption.

In fact, it is even less likely because the way in which video is consumed on mobile is significantly different to previous channels. Mobile is an individual experience: people do not huddle around a cell phone to watch a program. It is also an intermittent experience: people do not watch mobile videos that are longer than a few minutes. So while the statistics on mobile video consumption are staggering - 34 billion videos watched in 2010 - it is not the same kind of programming that older media offer. People watch short clips, not two-hour movies, and not even half-hour sitcoms.

Mobile is also a medium for user-generated videos. While YouTube has entered into contracts with major media companies to rebroadcast their content, the vast majority of attention is still given to short videos generated by users, often using their smartphones to capture the video they share.

The author refers to research that indicates the majority of video viewing on mobile platforms is done in the home, rather than in the field. (EN: No demographics are presented, but I recall another source that mentioned that solitary video consumption was popular with people who are unpopular - socially isolated people, mostly teens and young adults, who watch videos alone at home are those who have no friends or family to share the experience. It sounds harsh, but it also sounds very reasonable that this would be the primary audience.) It's also mentioned that "almost half" of people who watch video on smartphones are consuming programming that they would not normally watch on television.

Mobile-Friendly Programming

Video, just like print, will need to adapt itself to accommodate the limitations of the mobile platform: a small screen size and a brief period of engagement. Video that has a lot of things on the screen at one time, or requires the viewer's extended attention, are not going to do well in the mobile channel.

While people do not gather around a handheld device to share the experience of watching a video, social consumption takes place in a more time-shifted way as viewers post videos or links through social media to share the experience with friends, who may experience the same video in a different time and location.

Mobile Web or Mobile App?

There is no universal answer to whether it is better to create a custom application or place content on a mobile-oriented Web site - much depends on the service and its users. Consider the American Airlines application: occasional travelers will not download an application to book flights, check their flight schedules, or check in ... but those who fly the airline regularly may be happy to do so.

(EN: This follows what I have seen elsewhere. At first, applications were a novelty and people would download them just to see what they did. By now the novelty has worn off and users are more judicious, downloading apps only for companies they do business with frequently, and then only if the app does something more or better than the web site does. Prospects and shoppers practically never download an app prior to making a purchase.)

Swinging back to the notion of video: most mobile users view videos on sites rather than by applications, though some users download mobile applications from video services they already use on the Internet or a set-top box.

Mobile Video Platforms

The notion of on-demand video services for the television has long been an unfulfilled promise, but the author feels that it is a natural fit for the mobile platform, which may revive the notion.

He suggests that broadcast television is on the decline because viewers resent being at the mercy of network schedules and dislike having to be in front of their television screens at a time chosen by the network to view a given program. Instead, people use DVRs to record programming and watch at their leisure, or entertain themselves with recorded entertainment (watching past seasons).

(EN: Those facts cannot be denied, but again it's a matter of gauging the level of interest that remains in the "old" approach. Many people still gather with friends and family to watch programs together rather than watching them alone, and coworkers chat over coffee about what they watched last night. The social aspect of viewing video remains important to many, if not most, viewers, and the scheduled event is valued.)

The author concedes that only about a third of smartphone users have viewed full episodes of television programs on their mobile devices, and reckons that entertainment producers will need to change their programming to a shorter format to gain a significant audience on mobile. (EN: There have been several attempts to do this thus far, and none of them have been particularly successful. However, what does seem to be working well is "bonus" materials that accompany or augment a program that is still viewed on the big screen.)

The author spends a fair amount of time marveling over Kyte, a mobile video service that seemed to have a great deal of potential (EN: However, Kyte is no longer in business. It had been propped up by "support" from a number of major television and film studios, but it never gained sufficient popularity among consumers.)

Mobile Video Advertising

One of the problems of traditional television advertising is that advertisers paid for the attention of millions of viewers, but very few of the viewers were potential buyers. There was no way to detect who was really watching, or to tailor a commercial spot to a given market segment aside of airing it during programs whose audience was presumed to have certain characteristics.

Internet video, including mobile video, can be targeted better - and especially in the age of social media, it can be targeted very precisely. In the mobile channel, it is easier to identify a person based on their demographics, topics in which their usage suggests that they have interest, and even the time or day and location. It also enables customers to take action immediately on seeing a video.

However, mobile advertising has many challenges: audiences have little tolerance for commercial intrusions, their attention spans on mobile are much shorter, they are often interrupted or choose to ignore the screen, and they likely have little time to give attention or respond to a call to action.

Another advantage of mobile and Internet video is that metrics of reach and frequency are much more precise. Broadcast media provide estimates but cannot observe and measure the behaviors of individual users in the way that digital channels can. (EN: And extended example, with idiosyncratic and tedious detail, follows.)

Location Detection

One of the new capabilities of mobile is the ability to detect the physical location of the user, and provide services based on their location.

There's a brief mention of the use of GPS navigation applications, which began with Garmin back in 1989. In essence, this was one of the first mobile devices, though the software and database had to be downloaded into the device, such that there was no upstream communication of the user's coordinates back to the service provider. It wasn't until 2005 that Google Maps made the service interactive, transmitting the geographic coordinates of the user to the service provider, who returned location-specific content.

The long-coveted prize for GPS is enabling marketers to push location-specific advertising to users, which still has yet to come to fruition. Users can presently request information about stores, restaurants, and other destinations in their immediate vicinity, but advertisers cannot yet reach out in an intrusive way to inform users of their proximity.

There is serious doubt as to whether mobile users will ever be open to the notion of advertising that intrudes upon their mobile experience, though marketing that is available on demand is unobjectionable and even viewed as helpful - much in the same way that yellow pages advertising provides information to be found as needed.

Mobile Computers

The author mentions mobile computers, which include tablet computers (like the iPad) and "netbooks." These devices fall into a gray area because they are not landlocked like desktop computers, but neither are they fully mobile because users must stop moving in order to use them.

In spite of the best attempts of sellers, there has been little adoption of these devices by the residential market, as few people have much use for the devices. (EN: The iPad has caught on rather well, but it tends to be a mostly landlocked device. People use them within their homes- as the computer they can have in the living room, kitchen, or bedroom but do not often take outside the home.)

On the other hand, portable book/pad computers have been a boon to companies as a light-weight laptop that can easily travel with a worker. They are used by executives who are constantly on the go to meetings both in the office and to outside locations, to salesmen in the field, to blue-collar workers who move about a facility, to retail workers, even to wait staff in restaurants.