Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

Summary: Amazon and Barnes & Noble may throw around streaming video as a marketing tool to postion their products, but real mobile usage data indicates that users aren't watching a lot of streaming feature films and TV on their tablets.

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In the next two weeks, the battle for 7" tablet supremacy begins as Amazon and Barnes & Noble both attempt to capture the lion's share of the $250 and under digital convergence device/tablet market.

In Barnes & Noble's launch of the NOOKTablet today, the company lauded its product for having "the deepest level of Netflix integration" as well as having Hulu+ as content partners on the device, citing its advantage in video content over its competitor, the Kindle Fire, which is due to ship to Amazon customers in the next week.

Both Netflix and Hulu+ are popular premium content video streaming services, and it would appear at least on the surface that the NOOKTablet has some clear advantages, at least in terms of accessible video content over its competitor, the Amazon Kindle Fire, hardware differences notwithstanding.

As of 3Q 2011, Amazon announced that with their recently closed content licensing deal with CBS (the parent company of ZDNet) that they had approximately 90,000 titles available for streaming on a pay-per-view basis as well as a selection of about 10,000 that is available for free to Prime members.

Amazon Prime is a $79 yearly subscription that includes free shipping of purchased merchandise and other perks, such as a lending library of free premium ebooks.

By comparison, Netflix's streaming video business is a $7.99 per month ($96 per year) monthly service with over 23 million subscribers. Netflix has not released formal numbers on the total amount of titles available but is generally believed to be considerably larger than Amazon's.

In the last year, Amazon has spent about a billion dollars in video content licensing in order to boost their streaming video inventory.

All of this is further complicated by the fact that Netflix's own infrastructure is dependent on Amazon, as it runs completely on the company's EC2 elastic computing and S3 storage cloud.

Amazon as of yet has not yet made a formal announcement if Netflix would be available on Kindle Fire, but according to Amazon VP David Limp, the company was one of the few that had privileged access to the Kindle Fire prior to the September 28 product launch.

[UPDATE 11/9/2011: Amazon has now confirmed that Netflix will launch on Amazon Appstore for the Kindle Fire.]

Given Amazon and Netflix's existing infrastructure hosting arrangement it is not unforeseeable that a Netflix app could be distributed on the Kindle Fire's Amazon Appstore at a later date. In which case, Barnes & Noble's perceived content "advantage" with their NOOKTablet would be effectively nullified.

But with all of this hullabaloo about whose streaming video capabilities are superior, is streaming video of feature titles something tablet customers actually care about?

Based on market research I have looked at, the answer is a resounding "No".

In a study released in late October of 2011 by Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism in collaboration with The Economist Group, it was found that only 13 percent of all tablet users surveyed watched videos daily on their devices.

But what kind of videos is this small subset of users watching?

Well, unfortunately we don't have any good metrics on that yet. But we can infer from a similar mobile devices study done by Allot Communications released in June 2011 what they might be.

The study revealed that video usage on mobile devices (both smartphone and tablets with mobile data service) is on the rise and accounts for a large percentage of mobile carrier data traffic, specifically YouTube, which accounts for 22 percent of all global mobile bandwidth and 52 percent of all global mobile streaming.

In a Nielsen study published in late 2010, users on mobile phones were watching only about three and a half hours of video per month.

While I do not expect full-size, broadband-enabled tablet video utilization numbers to match up exactly to smartphones, the mobile data trends do provide some interesting insight.

If indeed only 13 percent of users are watching videos on their tablets daily according to the Pew study, I would expect that most of it is still going to be YouTube, which would be associated with the tablet's main role as a Web-browsing device and are embedded in web pages as lower-definition content (VGA or less).

But it gets more complicated than that. Streaming video of feature length movies or television shows is a very bandwidth intensive activity, particularly if you are talking about the HD video capability B&N is boasting about on the NOOKTablet.

And unless you have a 4G phone, and are paying for the ability to wirelessly tether it, or you stay in hotels or use public Wi-Fi access points that give you consistently good download bandwidth in excess of 3-5Mbps, you're not streaming video. Period.

It sure ain't happening using the bandwidth you typically get in Starbucks, airport lounges or even onboard a Wi-Fi equipped aircraft.

Well, you can try, but it won't look very good. Unless you've actually side-loaded your device with a purchase, such as with an iTunes rental on the iPad, you're going to be out of luck.

I admit that I am one of the very few people that does watch Netflix on my tablet when I am travelling on business trips, in hotel rooms.

But it's an activity I've only recently been able to do in the last month or two since I bought my Droid Bionic which runs on Verizon LTE, which allows me to Wi-Fi tether my iPad and my XOOM, and I'm on a grandfathered unlimited data plan.

Otherwise, it would get outrageously expensive if you were a heavy traveller and used it every day, given that many LTE subscribers have $50 per month 5GB plans which have $10 per 1GB overage.

And believe me, when I travel, I can easily consume 5GB in a week by watching 2 HD episodes of Star Trek or a feature-length HD movie from my hotel room on my iPad every night.

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So other than a grandfathered, unlimited 4G LTE plan, where are you going to find good enough bandwidth to watch streaming movies and TV that doesn't cost you an arm and a leg?

Well in your home, using Cable or FiOS, provided you are privileged enough to have broadband. And if you are a subscriber to Netflix or Amazon Video or even Hulu+, then you're most likely watching that content on a larger HD monitor or television attached to a PC/Mac or a set-top streaming device, such as a Roku, an Apple TV, a video game console or a Netflix-enabled Blu-Ray player.

I mean, why watch on a 10" screen when you can watch on a 42" one? That's why Pew's tablet video utilization numbers are so low.

Now, granted, there are some advantages to having a 7" tablet like the Kindle Fire and the NOOKTablet and watching video on it as opposed to a 10" device -- higher portability, for one.

Still, if the overall tablet video utilization numbers are particularly crappy, and iPad is the leader in the space with 10" devices, then we can infer that 7" will probably be worse, just due to the quality of the experience alone.

Sure, a subset of road warriors with LTE Wi-Fi tethering will use them, and maybe kids might mess with them occasionally in their bedrooms when they aren't watching video on the TV in the family living room, but I'm just not seeing streaming video as the primary form of media being consumed on these things based on the information in the published reports linked above.

If Barnes & Noble really thinks access to more streaming video content is going to be their prime advantage over Amazon with their 7" tablet, they'd better look a bit closer at the same studies I looked at.

Is the ability to do premium content video streaming on tablets a non-concern for the majority of end-users? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Tablets, Browser, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Software Development

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

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53 comments
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  • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

    I'd also say why watch on a 1024x768 4:3 screen on an iPad when any netbook or notebook does better with bigger screens in the right ratio.

    But yes, if you are at home (which you will be unless a phone data bill means nothing to you) a 52" screen beats everything. Ergonomically, the iPad is also a joke for watching video.

    Video on iPads and the like is really just used when people show off their new toy, actually watching a full movie on them is more of a chore than an enjoyment.
    tonymcs@...
    • Once users will use AirPlay, iPad is fine for all situations

      @tonymcs@...
      dderss
      • Airplay?

        @dderss
        Why would I even want too?
        Just another device I do not need.

        Sorry
        rhonin
    • Um, the article is about Amazon and Barnes and Noble

      Using streaming on a 7" tablet as a selling point.
      baggins_z
    • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

      @tonymcs@... Really I use my iPad for movies all the time. I am in places where I must wait for hours a lot. (childrens hospital). So watch lame TV at this place, or read on my iPad or watch movies from netflix or ones I have ripped while I wait.

      Its 1000x easier than using a laptop. Batter life is way better. Sure the aspect ratio is not the best, but for a single, small device it works just great.
      JeveSobs
      • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

        @JeveSobs The issue is not that you or other iPad users watch movies. The crux of this article is that end-users that do (a small minority) are either watching YouTube or using side-loaded content, not streaming feature length content.
        jperlow
      • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

        @jperlow
        Oh i don't know. i've watched 33 episodes of Breaking Bad on my iPad and would watch more if Netflix had them. I've watched several feature length films as well. Sure the TV is in the room, but so is a sleeping wife. So headphones on an iPad makes it possible for the night owl to watch without disturbing. And sure a netbook/notebook filled this need before, but the bulk, the power cord and the fan were all a hassle compared to the lightweight, untethered and silent iPad.
        hawks5999
      • Yes, it does but it is senseless ...

        @JeveSobs ... to download HD content to this device. Standard Definition (480p) is fine for a 10" screen.
        M Wagner
    • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

      @tonymcs@...

      ... and you have a 52" for each of your kids? or do they all want to watch the same thing all the time? Or YOU'RE a big fan of Barney, so it all works out?
      tkejlboom
  • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

    I always wondered why so much emphasis was placed on (streaming) video when the iPad was first launched. It just makes no sense to me to watch video on a tablet except in very rare situations (flying/travelling, etc.). In day-to-day use wouldn't most people watch video on their TV at home? If you're watching on the bus wouldn't a PMP be more convenient?

    Now that I have a tablet I have not really watched any video on it. I will gladly load it up with video next time I travel, but that will not be streaming, and that is a rare occurence.
    allusernamestaken
    • It wasn't. The emphasis was placed on

      convenient portable computing. Apple didn't focus on streaming at all. The commercials showed people watching movies, looking at photos, composing email, viewing web pages, playing games, etc. It's Amazon and Barnes and Noble that are pushing the streaming aspect. But you are right in why it will fail. People want to watch movies on their TV.
      baggins_z
  • People Just Care "In Theory"

    I think that most users, especially the younger people want it to stream video. However, speaking from my own personal experience, I almost never use it.

    I'm not sure the companies care as much about whether or not people actually use that feature much, but just the thought that it could be used to do such a thing is just a marketing strategy.
    rockthatmobile
    • I used to stream video from my own PC to a WD Live

      @rockthatmobile That was with a good WIRED network. But I gave up and switched to just getting USB case for an old HDD. <br><br>The video quality is just better when the device is just reading from the a "localized" drive (in my case USB). It also requires LESS power. <br><br>If streaming from my own PC with a "lightly" used local network wasn't that attractive .... what makes you think that a "cloud" based streaming is going to be better?<br><br>On a mobile device, I think that just loading a full digital copy of a movie is more acceptable than trying to stream a movie (in realtime) on a highly unstable 3G or 4G connection.
      wackoae
      • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

        @wackoae

        Dude, get a better network! Blu-ray peaks at a measly 30Mbps. If you don't have Wi-Fi that can't maintain that... What decade are you living in? Maybe it's just because my apartment is so small, but I can run consistently run 5Ghz at over 200Mbps sustained.

        I can't guess what was wrong with your setup. Maybe the WD Live just sucks? A 100Mbps switch should be able to handle any Blu-ray quality stream without breaking a sweat. 1000Mbps is cheap even for the home. If you're lucky, maybe you convince your boss you should have some of the 10GbE switches at home so you can test deployments in advance...
        tkejlboom
  • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

    data plans are not cheap. it doesnt mean if people care or not. i watch a lot of videos on my ipad on the couch, in bed, in the washroom, in the backyard etc. i no longer subscribe to cable tv bec they're full of commercial crap.
    epgomez@...
  • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

    There are almost no wireless connections outside the home that are suitable for video streaming. I travel every week, and I can personally attest that most hotel wireless connections suck just as much as airports and Starbucks.

    But I do use my Nook Color to view movies and TV shows on a regular basis, but they are all locally stored. With a 16gb or 32gb microSD flash card, I can store a dozen movies and shows to be viewed during the week at full speed, and the cost at the moment is about $1 per GB if you buy 2 16gb cards.
    terry flores
  • If I see...

    anyone with a tablet, I'll ask them. So far, I have seen 3 iPads in the wild an no other tablets. I don't have any friends who have a tablet and I can't really say that I feel tempted to buy a tablet.

    I had a play with some iPads and Android tablets at the local MediaMarkt. The iPad felt dated, the Honeycomb tablets worked nicely, but I just don't see a use for them.

    If I travel, it is generally in the car, so my mobilephone plugged into the car radio for audio books and podcasts is all I need. At home and work, I have a decent PC/laptop.

    I've just not found a use case for a tablet, yet.
    wright_is
  • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

    I use HBO GO video streaming occasionally and the experience on my iPad 2 is quite enjoyable. I suspect users with other telecom streaming apps (like Xfinity and DirecTV) or Slingbox integrated into their home WiFi network also stream videos on a regular basis.

    Personally, I view embedded videos everyday on my iPad. I am curious if this type of behavior (that is, watching embedded videos) was taken into account by the authors of this study?
    kenosha77a
  • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

    Why not look at some of the criteria of streaming video first.
    1. Bandwidth
    2. data usage charges
    3. your 2gb data cap until you go over.
    4. phones/tablets that just dont have good enough hardware to even support streaming video...

    Every person I know with a tablet wants to watch streaming video on them but the sad reality is bandwidth, data usage, format streamed, SPEED it's streamed at and can the device even handle it in the first place.

    The ONLY time its feasible is when they are connected to wifi and lets face it... the reason most have tablets is to be mobile. Not tied to a hotspot to catch that show on NBC they missed last week. That one show is 1/4 (with ads) of your total data usage for the month. Let's not consider the fact that all cellular companies have dumped unlimited data from all of their plans pretty much.

    Shall we speak of what data overages with your carrier or your capped speeds will do to your device thats maybe not hardware strong enough to even watch video or shall we skip that fact too? I mean the VIA 8650 tablets are just pure junk and their everywhere on ebay...

    So the real issue here is people want it, it's really Can they AFFORD it?

    Isn't it true that "need" leads innovation? /hint /hint
    Nate_K
  • RE: Streaming video on tablets: Do consumers actually care?

    I watch movies on my tablet all the time. At first it was Nook Color and now it's an HTC Flyer, but in either case, I find the 7" screen a great compromize between portability and size. I should say, though, taht i don't stream movies. I ript them and write them to an SD card (which is why I'm singularly uninterested in the Amazon Fire).

    The last movie I watched was "Resident Evil." I watched it while waiting at a brake shop to have new pads installed on my car. Granted, i wouldn't have stuck around if I'd realized how long it was goig to take, but nonetheless it was nice to have the option of whipping out my tablet and watching a movie while sitting in the waiting room. These guys are great for long 4 hour flights, and being able to drop 10-15 movies on a 16Gb SD card is great.
    dsf3g