Movie streaming on mobile a fast-emerging issue for studios
March 14, 2014
Applications such as Popcorn Time have been making news recently for offering consumers ways to stream movies for free, charging movie studios to step it up on mobile to maintain control over the market.
While Popcorn Time is not available on iOS or Android devices, apps such as Movie Tube do in fact already let consumers view movies on their smartphone. Movie studios need to react quickly and work with mobile to engage consumers and keep them away from these free streaming apps.
“Piracy and torrenting is a huge problem, and [movie studios] already don’t have much control over the issues,” said Mark Brennan, head of mobile at Manning Gottlieb OMD, London. “From an online point of view, they’ve tried working with Internet Service Providers to crack down on the problem, but those that build that technology are always a couple of steps ahead. This becoming mobilized will just speed up the process.
“Movie streaming on mobile is a new but fast-emerging behavior,” he said. “If services such as Popcorn Times become popular on launch, then they risk the standard being set for people not paying for content on mobile.”
Popcorn Time is an app that is available for Windows, Mac and Linux devices and lets consumers stream full movies using BitTorrent. In essence, it is Netflix for free.
While this app has recently been removed for legal reasons, it still suggests a changing time and presents new risks for movie studios.
At the same time, Movie Tube is available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Movie Tube is a search engine for full movies that are on YouTube.
The app is funded by ads, but nonetheless presents a challenge for movie studios since the revenue is ending up in the wrong hands.
Another similar app called Popcornflix also lets consumers watch free feature length movies and is supported by ads.
The Popcornflix app
According to Mr. Brennan, movie studios need to beat the competition by working with the big players in mobile.
“Movie studios need to work a lot closer with Apple and iTunes, and Google, the people who have dominant control over the ecosystem that these services run in,” Mr. Brennan said. “It’s probably why Popcorn Times isn’t available on those platforms yet.
“Studios have already shortened the lifespan between theatrical and home rents release, but mobile consumption being so much more immediate and demanding may mean this puts even more pressure to shorten this.”
Disney is combatting competition by creating Disney Movies Anywhere to let consumers watch full-length movies across multiple devices (see story).
Other studios such as Paramount and Universal tend to simply deliver mobile ads to drive consumers to theaters. Or they create mobile games and apps to promote a new movie.
Movie studios should take a more proactive approach to delivering content via mobile.
"For the movie industry, content is king," said Bill Aurnhammer, CEO of Aurnhammer LLC, New York. "Netflix has been taking major steps to create original contents to get the upper hand in this market.
"To fight digital piracy, movie studios should use those assets and adopt more efficient digital distribution methods, focusing on tapping into the mobile area," he said. "The battle of digital movie viewing is largely affected by convenience.
"If the movies are made available for streaming when DVDs are released or even earlier, illegal piracy will become much less attractive to audiences."
The Disney Movies Anywhere app
One thing is sure, and that is that consumers are consuming an increasing amount of content on mobile. Movie studios need to acknowledge this trend and react.
“Today, the multiscreen approach is obviously a huge play right now within the entire media business, and studios obviously are not launching streaming sites so everything is running through distribution partners,” said Alan Simkowski, vice president of mobile solutions at GMR Marketing, New Berlin, WI.
“[On] the Netflix of the world or the xfinitiys, you can watch anything on any type of platform whether its online, traditional TV, Xbox,” he said. “I mean I’ve got Netflix through Apple TV, but I can watch it on any device as well including my cell phone.
“It validates that there’s a desire for consumers to view movies on mobile, whether its trough a tablet or iPhone or Android.”
Mr. Simkowski does not necessarily think that apps such as Popcornflix threaten movie studios since the experience is not as good on the app, but he does view it as an indicator of a consumer demand for mobile content.
This might soon translate to distributers delivering content via their own apps. HBO and Netflix already provide mobile content via their apps, but maybe one day there will be a Regal Cinemas app that lets consumers watch movies on their smartphones.
For that to take place, studios and distribution partners need to work together to deliver on mobile.
“I think there’s an effort from the studio and their partner so that what you watch from your TV at home is now becoming available immediately through mobile because of the fact that mobile consumption is through the roof on smartphones and tablets,” Mr. Simkowski said. “I think there’s an effort by the studios to be more synergized with the distribution partners to make sure it’s available on mobile and accessible and as fast as possible.
“I think the studios are very regulated in terms of how they can create and distribute,” he said. “I think that’s why you have the distribution layered, where you have Regal or whoever it may be being the distribution point.
“Will one day you be able to watch a movie on your phone at the same time it’s available in theater through a Regal app? That’s an interesting scenario.”
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York
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