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Adobe: Video streaming gains led by phones, game consoles; really?

There was plenty of new data to absorb in Adobe’s Q4 2013 Digital Index. However, the surprising finding that smartphones are driving mobile video streaming needs qualification. And the given fact that game console video usage is exploding could be seriously misleading.

Adobe says that smartphone video streaming starts overtook tablet starts in December 2012, and has been growing faster ever since. The company says smartphone stream starts are up 86% year-over-year, while tablets increased a more sedate 23%. In December 2013, tablets accounted for 9.6% of video starts and the smartphone generated 13.1%. The PC accounted for the lion’s share of the rest, 76.7%.

This is quite surprising given that consumers tend to favor larger screens for video viewing. Ooyala sees both platforms as much closer. In terms of total share of all video time played in Q3 2013; smartphones delivered approximately 7.5%, while tablets delivered 5.5%. However, Ooyala says there is a strong preference for the bigger tablet screen when a consumer watches for an hour or more. Long form video accounts for 19% of time spent watching on a smartphone, while 26% is long form on a tablet.

It’s interesting to compare Adobe US data with iPlayer data from the UK. Both companies agree that, taken together, smartphones and tablets have increased their share of stream starts more than 50% over the last year. However, in the UK, the PC is plummeting in usage, falling below tablets for the first time in December. Another significant difference is that tablets significantly lead smartphones. The difference could be because UK users are predominantly watching full-length shows, giving the tablets bigger screen a decided advantage.

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Taken together, the data suggests that consumers are switching a lot of their online viewing to tablets and smartphones. Also, they tend to prefer watching more short form video on their smartphones and more long form video on their tablets.

Another claim by Adobe is that game console video viewing increased an impressive 365% year-over-year. This data should be treated very carefully. In the back of the Adobe Digital Index document, the company provides detailed data. It states that “mobile share of Video Starts” by game console increased from 0.01% in Q4 2012 to 0.03% in Q4 2013. The amount of streaming to game consoles is so small other companies that track similar data, like Conviva and Ooyla, don’t even break it out as a separate category.

Adobe goes on to attribute the large increase in game console streaming to the new consoles, Xbox One and PS4. In the two months or so since the US release of the new consoles, PS4 has sold 2.5M in North America and Xbox One has sold 2.3M. Since there are over 50M U.S. homes with a console, at most 10% of homes have one of the new ones. From the standpoint of video, the new consoles and previous generation all have access to the top four OTT streaming services; YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. With no tangible difference in video offerings between new and old consoles and a limited time in market, it is unlikely Xbox One and PS4 can have had a significant impact.

Why it matters

Mobile devices continue to reshape online video consumption behaviors.

The surprising finding that smartphones are driving mobile views in the U.S. is because consumers use it predominantly for short form viewing. Tablets are preferred for long form.

The claimed big increases in video watching through game consoles could be misleading. Usage of the platform is small in comparison with smartphones, tablets and PCs.

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