Although they are most famous for tracking American television viewing habits, the folks at Nielsen also measure other types of media consumption in the United States.  Each quarter, they publish their Three Screens Report, which provides timely data about viewing habits across the “three screens” of television, internet, and mobile.   Earlier this week, they released their 2Q09 report, and it identifies some significant trends in our industry.

Clearly, among the three screens, television remains the dominant source of video entertainment in America.  But the part of the report that caught my eye was the growth rate of the audience for mobile video.  According to Nielsen, 15 million Americans watched mobile video in 2Q09, a 70% year-over-year increase.  This is a growth rate that is bound to get the attention of mobile operators, mobile application providers, and companies like Dialogic that build products and platforms to support the industry.

Although Nielsen doesn’t provide a lot of information behind the numbers, it is always fun to do some “experience-based speculation”.  Let’s try to analyze the results a bit and speculate about some of the factors that might have contributed to this dramatic increase in mobile viewing.

A large portion of the increase could be attributed to the wider deployment of video-capable devices.  In 2Q08, a lot of people did not watch mobile video just because their phone was not capable of displaying video content.  A couple of years ago, an expert in the mobile device industry told me that his business plans assumed that consumers replaced their mobile phones every 18 months.  Even if that rate has not accelerated since then, it would imply that a lot of Americans purchased their first video-enabled mobile phone in the last year.  And many of those consumers decided to buy an iPhone.

It is hard to comprehend the scope of the changes in the mobile video market that have been caused by the introduction of the iPhone.  But I would argue that we “ain’t seen nothin’ yet” – the iPhone is truly revolutionizing the world of mobile video.   According to the popular technology-oriented blog Techcrunch, YouTube reported a 400% increase in the number of mobile video uploads in the first six days (six days) after the launch of the iPhone 3GS in June, 2009.  It would have taken me longer than six days to figure out how the buttons worked on the device.  I am confident that the Nielsen report for 3Q09 will show even more dramatic uptake on mobile video than we have seen in the latest edition.

Besides new devices, another factor in the growth of mobile video is the availability of content.   While most (83%) of the video content viewed on a computer screen is “short form” clips (primarly YouTube and user-generated content), most consumers watching mobile video are enjoying professionally-produced “brand name” content.

I am probably a good example of this.  My mobile plan is with Verizon Wireless, and they offer a subscription “mobile television” plan (for which I choose not to subscribe) and a service called V CAST that lets me watch music videos, ESPN sports highlights, and segments of “The Office” on my phone.  Given the approach that Verizon Wireless takes toward offering video content to its users, it is a lot easier for me to enjoy the professionally-produced content that they supply than to watch “over the top” user-generated content on my mobile device.

From the Dialogic perspective, this rapid growth in mobile video helps validate our strategic investments in that technology.  We view video as a key driver for new application development, and we are building products and platforms to make video communications as easy and natural to use as voice is today.  In addition, we are designing advanced video algorithms to provide mobile video consumers with a high-quality viewing experience.

So what comes next?  In my opinion, more video-capable devices (even at the lower end of the price curve), more content made available for mobile devices, more applications to enrich the viewing experience, advertising to make the whole adventure profitable, and a higher quality viewing experience on mobile devices.  In the meantime, is anybody willing to take a guess at the growth rate for the mobile video audience in Nielsen’s 3Q09 report?