Hulu, ESPN: Mobile a 'critical' part of online video business

LAS VEGAS--Mobile viewers are becoming an increasingly important part of online video providers' strategies, such that these providers are building specific services and ad campaigns for wireless users.

Tim Connolly, head of distribution and strategic partnerships at Hulu, sought to put the mobile opportunity into context. He said that Hulu's mobile viewership has grown from 0 percent to 20 percent of Hulu's total audience in just three years. That equates to around 500 million video views. He also said that viewership on PCs is now declining, while viewership on mobile and smart TVs is increasing.

"We have about 50 percent of our total subscribers using a mobile device every month," Connolly said during a keynote appearance here at the Super Mobility Week trade show, which is focused on the wireless industry.

Sean Bratches, EVP of sales and marketing at ESPN, concurred. He said that ESPN's digital business counts around 50.7 million devices streaming 2.6 billion minutes of content. He said the recent World Cup soccer event helped dramatically boost the number of ESPN's digital viewers.

Interestingly, Bratches also said that the mobile platform has matured to the point that ESPN and its advertisers are actively targeting it with content. He said beer company Coors is taking its "Cold Hard Facts" Sports Center ad campaign onto ESPN's mobile platform.

Connolly too said that Hulu's advertisers are beginning to dabble in the provider's mobile channel. He said Pizza Hut is rolling out mobile ads that will allow users to place an order for a pizza without leaving the Hulu app. He said beer company Corona is also working on a mobile ad offering. However, Connolly cautioned that it's still early days in the mobile advertising arena: "It's coming, but it's going to take some time," he said. "The ecosystem is developing."

Network vendors too are working to improve the mobile video experience. Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes said the vendor is working on technology that would monitor network conditions such that an operator could predict when a subscriber was headed toward an area of poor coverage, like a tunnel, and could push more video data down to that user's device in order to create a better viewing experience.

Both Hulu's Connolly and ESPN's Bratches noted that the mobile channel for online video creates significant opportunities in terms of the data that can be collected about users. However, they both noted that the sector needs to improve its metrics and measurement analytics for providers to make better use of that data. "We're going to see an improvement in measurement," Bratches predicted.

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