The Appeal of Mobile Video: Reading Between the Lines

By Dale Gilliam III
Director of Primary Research

No doubt that mobile video is among the hottest topics in personal technology. Everywhere you look, the press is citing data on whether or not (and to what extent) consumers are interested in viewing video on their mobile phone.

The latest mobile video research to grab headlines is from RBC Capital Markets, who commissioned InsightExpress to survey 1,000 US cellphone users between the ages of 21 to 65 as to which cellphone features and services they considered most important. In particular, the survey tested consumer interest in viewing video on handheld devices.

Leading Questions
RBC asked survey respondents to answer “true” or “false” to the following statement:

“I am not interested in watching TV programs or movies on my handheld device.”

The results? Not surprisingly, 76% of respondents answered “true” – in other words, they were NOT interested in watching TV programs or movies on their handheld device.

When RBC reported these findings to the press, the response was overwhelming – even the Wall Street Journal ran the data, if only because it stood in stark contrast to much of the existing research regarding mobile video. While the press latched onto this data without any second thought or the slightest scrutiny, we can’t let it slide by without a couple comments. We’re not trying to be hypercritical here, but simply wish to point out that black and white/true or false research is not the best way to understand consumer interest in novel services such as mobile video.

There are three particular problems with how RBC went about framing the survey question and interpreting the data. I’ll lay out the problems one at a time, make a few comments, and then proceed to the next. Again, the goal here is not to dis RBC. Instead, our aim is to demonstrate that the most useful consumer research goes beyond true/false dichotomies to tease out the subtleties of consumer perception. In the case of emerging devices and applications, such subtleties is where markets are made.

To Be or Not To Be…Interested, That Is
Problem 1: The question did not allow for respondents to answer “I don’t know” or “Uncertain” – a huge mistake, especially when evaluating a new service to which very few consumers have been directly exposed.

According to research conducted in late 2005, TDG found that 32% of cellphone users between the ages of 15 and 50 are to varying degrees interested in watching video on their mobile phones, some eight percentage points (or 33%) higher than RBC’s data. How can two research studies come to such different conclusions?

First, TDG’s study surveyed cellphone users between 15 and 50, whereas RBC surveyed consumers between the ages of 21 and 65. We assumed that the level of interest among most consumers above the age of 50 would have very little interest in a mobile video service, whereas consumers between the ages of 15 and 21 would likely be the most interested in mobile video. More on the importance of age a bit later.

Second, the TDG question allowed respondents to select from seven different answers, not just “true” or “false. By using a 7-point scale, and informing respondents what the various numbers represent (e.g. “1” means “Of no interest whatsoever,” “7” meaning “Extremely interested,” and “4” meaning “Neutral” or “Uncertain”), respondents could select an answer that was more in line with how they actually felt about mobile video. In our research experience, interest is never simply black or white/true or false – there are shades of grey that need to be captured (especially when researching new concepts which are relatively novel to consumers).

Third, in RBC’s survey, respondents who were uncertain about their interest in mobile video were forced to choose between two inadequate answers. While some believe such methods nudge consumers closer to how they really feel, in this case it serves to undermine the validity of the results.

Figure 1 – Consumer Interest in Watching Video on a Mobile Phone

As noted above, when allowed to respond to interest in mobile video using a 7-point scale, 23% of respondents chose “4” or “neutral” and 45% answered “3” or less (meaning, to varying degrees, disinterested). This stands in stark contrast to RBC’s true/false dichotomy, where 24% said they were interested and 76% said they were not.

What About the Children?
Problem 2: The data reported to the press did not delineate between how different age groups responded to the question.

First, RBC did not publicly acknowledge the ages of their sample or how the age of the respondent impacted their interest in mobile video. While they may very well have this research on hand, it didn’t make it into the public spotlight – an unfortunate occurrence.

Second, RBC selected consumers between the ages of 21 and 65, skipping the segment of users most likely to be interested in mobile video services (those between the ages of 15 and 20 years old) and included those over the age of 50 (who are much more likely to be technology laggards and disinterested in mobile video services). As such, it is not surprising that their research found only 24% of respondents to be interested in mobile video.
As noted below, the age of respondent is a strong determinant of interest in mobile video.

Figure 2 – Interesting in Viewing Mobile Video by Age Segment

More than half (51%) of 15 to 17 year olds were to varying degrees interested in mobile video (answering “5” or higher on a 7-point scale), compared to 38% of those 18 to 24, 32% of those 25 to 34, and 24% of those 35 to 50.

If you’re an operator looking to roll out a mobile video service, or even just an interested reader trying to get a deeper understanding of the market, generic true/false data is relatively useless. Operators have never assumed that mobile video would appeal equally to all consumers. Rather, the challenge was to identify those specific consumers to which mobile video held the greatest appeal.

But Isn’t Content King?
Problem 3: The data reported to the press did not reveal to what extent different content genres, brands, or length of programming affected interest.

Whether discussing old media (such as TV viewing or theatrical attendance) or new media (mobile multimedia or IP video), the quality and type of content is an important consideration when evaluating the appeal of a particular medium. If the content sucks, consumers are unlikely to view it regardless of the medium. If the content is compelling, consumers are much more likely to look past the medium and just enjoy the content. While this is not true in all cases, it does seem to hold for the vast majority of entertainment experiences.

Figure 3 – Preferred Content for Mobile Phone Video Viewing

TDG asked respondents what types of content they would like to watch on a mobile phone, independent of how they responded to the prior question on their interest in mobile video. If they didn’t find any of the content types to be compelling for mobile viewing, they were given the option to state “I have no interest in watching video on my mobile phone.” Again, offering consumers as many outs as possible serves to improve data confidence.

The results? When presented with a list of the different types of content that could be viewed on a mobile phone, 57% of respondents identified at least one type of content that would be desirable to view on a mobile phone – approximately the sum total of those who previously said they were interested or neutral to watching video on a mobile phone. Again, this is very different from the simple true/false outcome offered by RBC.

Parting Thoughts
To summarize, evaluating the appeal of novel services such as watching video on a handheld device is much more complicated than asking a simple true/false question. Too often evangelists and naysayers grab on to simplistic research in order to prematurely extol or condemn emerging services such as mobile video. That’s too bad, especially when detailed research is available to evaluate accurately the nature of these new opportunities.

For more information about The Diffusion Group, visit our website at

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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