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Cable Technology Feature Article

June 24, 2013

Popcornflix Gets Streaming Uptake Going with Mobility Push

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Mobile video and mobile advertising is a skyrocketing space, as we all know. And for the year-old, ad-supported streaming video site Popcornflix, the mobile opportunity is its chance to go from niche to mainstream.

Popcornflix’s genesis is a familiar story in the streaming world: Parent company Screen Media Ventures has a library of 2,000 movies, built up over its decade-plus history as an indie and library content distribution company. With the rise of Big Media-backed Hulu (News - Alert), Sony’s Crackle and VEVO and other ad-supported services from content companies, it became a clear choice to leap into the fray themselves, according to Gary Delfiner, president of digital distribution at Screen Media. Why not find a way to further monetize its content library?

Popcornflix accordingly launched about a year ago online, and debuted on the Roku platform six months ago. Sure, the movies on offer for the service are not what you’d call blockbusters—new arrivals include the 1985 Matt Dillon vehicle “Rebel,” 2009 environmental horror flick “Nature’s Grave,” and fresh installments of the ever-popular “MMA Live: School of Hard Knocks.” Topping the “Popular” category? 2011 British indie romance “The Dish and the Spoon.” In other words, it’s a cornucopia of the long-tail-ish bounty from various arenas of the content world. But its quirkiness is resonating.

Delfiner said that in that short one-year span, Popcornflix has grown to hold its own as a free, ad-supported movie site, which Delfiner says sees the download of 50,000 apps per month. About 400,000 of those to date have been for Roku, where Popcornflix is the No. 5 channel. In May, Roku users streamed 350,000 titles on the service.

Image via DigitalTrends

Mobile Video Gains Ground

Despite Roku success and apps available for other platforms like Xbox One, mobile could be Popcornflix’ next big story. This year, according to MAGNA GLOBAL, digital media will continue double-digit growth, as ad revenue will increase 13.4 percent worldwide to $113.6 billion. Online video (growing 21 percent to $6.6 billion), mobile formats (54 percent to $12 billion) and social formats (39.6 percent to $8.2 billion) are the main engines. While TV still dwarfs every other segment with a 40-percent market share, that format is barely growing, and may actually decline in many markets due to the commoditization and deflation of display inventory, the firm said.

Popcornflix bowed its Android (News - Alert) app last week, and while it’s had an iPad/iPhone app for a while, Popcornflix is planning a complete refresh of its iOS widget before the end of the month.

“Android in particular is so exciting for us when you consider what’s happening in the mobile space,” Delfiner told me in an interview. “There are 600 million active iPhones, and 900 million Android accounts. And we think that this is an underdeveloped market on a worldwide basis—there are actually very few high-profile movie streaming services available for Android tablets and phones. And when you think of the numbers—how do you not monetize on that?”

He added, “With a billion and a half mobile users out there, if you have a great app, you’ll get a base of viewers no matter what you do, and then you can build on that. Even a blind squirrel can find an acorn now and again—and we’re not blind.”

Popcornflix also sees a spike of activity on smartphones, but there’s a crucial difference from tablets: viewership is for a shorter period of time, and viewers come back five to seven times per day, indicating that they’re watching movies in a serialized fashion.  

Taking the usage statistics into account, Popcornflix is programming its mobile content differently for phones and tablets than what it offers for connected TV. “People that watch mobile video fall into specific demographics—on the go, a big one is 30-something parents with kids,” Delfiner said. “If they’re out with kids at a store or a restaurant, often you’ll see the kids playing with a tablet more and more.”

He cited the recent deal between Netflix and DreamWorks to bring original kids’ content to the service centered around blockbuster franchises. “Kids programming is going to be critical to mobile video, and everyone is recognizing that,” he said.

Meanwhile for the smartphone set, the company is beefing up its television library to better fit with the episodic viewing that it’s been tracking. “We’re specifically programming TV for the mobile space,” Delfiner noted

Advertising Traction

Along with the spike in mobile usage, advertisers scent opportunity in mobile video. From Popcornflix’s internal feedback and analytics, that’s particularly true when it comes to tablets. “More and more consumers are using tablets to get their entertainment (and phones, but not as much),” Delfiner explained. “Our advertisers see the hottest space right now as being tablet inventory—we are inundated with requests, and we’re selling out our spots.”

In terms of viewer engagement around those ads, all of Popcornflix’s ads are interactive—be they interstitial, video or banner format. “This is what the advertisers understand and are looking for—they’re interactivity crazy, and mobile lends itself to that perfectly,” he said. “The OTT connected TV space is not maturing as quickly as the Web in terms of the advertiser space, but mobile is now developing rapidly.”

The Road Ahead

Going forward, Popcornflix is planning to more fully embrace mobility with a push into the second-screen space.

“We see this as a developing culture, watching TV with a tablet on the lap,” Delifiner said. “We see mobile as a key driver in premium long-form content, and if we’re able to offer extra attractions for the experience, it creates more engagement. And we will program for that.”

Amidst all of the opportunity, Popcornflix’ key challenge for now is visibility. “We are focusing on cross-promotion and social media marketing to let viewers know that we’re there—getting high up in the algorithm in the Google (News - Alert) Play store will be important,” he noted. “But we’re starting with a good base and we think there is nothing but growth ahead for this service.”

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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