The Year in Review: Mobile Video

Editor's note: This article will appear in the 2009 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook. Click here for your free subscription to the European edition of Streaming Media magazine to get your copy in February.

We are in a global economic slump, but you might not know it by looking at the mobile video space. According to research from analysts as diverse as ABI Research, IDC, and Information, the number of handsets with true internet browsers equal to those on laptops or desktops is set to expand almost fivefold in the next 5 years, from 130 million in 2008 to 530 million by 2013.

Web search, location-based “find me” proximity services, social networking, and mobile video are springing up around these browser-centric handsets, leading to a secondary push for popular browser-based plug-ins that have not yet made it to the smartphone handset.

“Three-screen playback is motivating plug-in vendors such as Adobe, Microsoft and Google to put significant development into the mobile device side to enable a consistent experience across all three screens,” says ABI’s director of research, Michael Wolf. “Investment in content access and playback both in browsers and web-based applications across various devices will help to continue this market’s future growth.”

In a broader sense, the total usage of the internet has grown dramatically, but the next wave of growth won’t be on the desktop. According to IDC, almost 1.4 billion people will use the internet on a regular basis in 2008. By 2012, this number is expected to surpass one-third of the world’s population, encompassing 1.9 billion unique users.

“The Internet will have added its second billion users over a span of about eight years,” says John Gantz, chief research officer at IDC. “Deeply integrated into the fabric of many users’ personal and professional lives, enabling them to work, play, and socialize anytime from anywhere, these trends will accelerate as the number of mobile users continues to soar.”

Furthermore, IDC expects the number of mobile devices accessing the internet to surpass the number of online PCs by 2012. So what does this mean from a pan-European perspective, given the high-penetration rates of 3G mobile devices and, more specifically, of devices such as the iPhone 3G and the newer, touchscreen BlackBerry Storm? Will Europe lead the way, with Asia and the U.S. lagging behind?

At this moment, the answer appears to be yes. There is a higher percentage of streaming video (both proportionally and in terms of actual streams) coming out of Europe at this moment than almost anywhere else on Earth.

To truly understand European innovation in mobile web browsing and video streaming, let’s look at this area through the lens of several startups focused on these growth areas.

Avot Media
From a content provider’s perspective, Avot Media solves an important file formatting problem. The Avot engine dynamically transcodes video assets as they are requested by the end user, meaning content providers don’t have to create a separate, pretranscoded version of the video in anticipation of a request. Avoiding the need to preingest videos frees up valuable disk space and server resources, and Avot formats and transcodes the same web video assets in a fraction of the time that standard transcoding requires. Finally, Avot detects users’ network types, network conditions, and device types, enabling the Avot engine to adjust the bitrate of the video steam to optimize the viewing experience. Meanwhile, Avot stream-controller technology throttles packet delivery to avoid any image stuttering or freezing on the device side, resulting in a smooth, satisfying video viewing experience.

Similar to Movidia (discussed later in the article), Droplet provides video processing; this technology, though, does not rely on a system on a chip (SoC) but instead on smartphones’ increased processing and memory configurations. Droplet recently launched what it terms “the first all-software video service suite,” which is akin to several of the toolsets coming out of Korea. But Droplet uses low-complexity video processing to, in effect, free video-enabled devices and video service infrastructure from their traditional hardware dependencies.

Droplet also recently announced the debut of its real-time VideoShare service platform. This all-software codec technology for both video and voice rests inside an instant messaging service (IMS) framework. As an IMS, it provides two-way, point-to-point video sharing with synchronized voice on a broad range of 2.5G and 3G handsets. Answering a call that has plagued the instant messaging landscape for quite some time, Droplet uses a common software client architecture for mobile handsets and desktop/laptop computers, providing interoperability across multiple platforms and operating systems, devices, and networks.

A Finnish startup, Floobs enables users to set up their own live internet and mobile TV channel, giving them the ability to stream live video, upload clips, and schedule upcoming broadcasts and playlists.

“One evening we just suddenly realized that soon everyone will be carrying video production tools in their pockets,” says Joonas Pekkanen, founder of Floobs. “These video production tools come in the form of smart phones, so our idea is to allow anyone to set-up their own live mobile Internet TV channels—streaming live content from mobile phones, web cams, DV cameras and mixing that with pre-recorded content.”

Floobs started in early 2008, recruiting key people and looking for seed funding, which the company successfully obtained. The advantage of this streaming video service compared to competitors such as Qik is that Floobs uses a Java-based production and a player toolset, meaning—at least in theory—that the tools can be used on the large number of mobile devices with Java capabilities.

Floobs and other Java-based video-streaming tools will both compete with and complement the new JavaFX technology from Sun Microsystems. Launched in early December 2008, the JavaFX platform challenges the two biggest players in the rich internet applications (RIA) space: Microsoft’s Silverlight and Adobe’s Flash.

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