Anticipation for 5G wireless has exploded into a full-on mania recently, with some wireless providers playing into the hype by laughably slapping a 5G label on a product that is not actually 5G. There’s buzz building across the media industry about what 5G can do for streaming, mobile download times, data sharing, and advertising. Within the ad and marketing world, there’s the promise of faster data collection and the ability to swap ads in real-time based on audience signals. But while 5G has clear potential, there’s a big difference between the building excitement and the realities.
This is particularly true in video delivery, where constant improvements to image quality mean that file sizes continue to get bigger. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 15-second ad or a 200-minute movie, the playback issues that dog mobile today will persist into the future, even as 5G begins its slow rollout. Video advertisers need to be prepared, and they need to know about what is and isn’t possible with 5G right now.
5G will bring legitimate change… eventually
5G is the fifth generation in cellular wireless internet, and it is a massive upgrade from the current 4G LTE wireless internet. 5G promises faster download and upload times, meaning that users will have lightning fast internet connections whenever they are on a 5G network. This should facilitate faster communication between Internet-connected devices, resulting in faster collection and analysis of consumer behavior signals.
5G has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of how people move about the real world, from both a marketing and research perspective. It may finally bring about an era where the internet of things is passing information quickly, opening the door to the kind of connected homes that the Jetsons lived in.
From a video marketer standpoint, faster download speeds open the door to faster streaming and seamless playback. The problem is that 5G is in no way ready for the spotlight yet. Even though wireless networks are rolling out 5G coverage to select cities this year, users are already having trouble finding a 5G signal in the cities that supposedly have coverage. Meanwhile, AT&T is labeling some of its products “5G Evolution,” when the phones are clearly not 5G capatable. And Apple, aware of how slow the rollout will be, hasn’t even announced a 5G capable device at this time.
Some major issues are that 5G requires different hardware from what’s currently used in 4G LTE towers. 5G also has a smaller signal radius from each tower than 4G. This means that not only do wireless towers need to be updated with new hardware, but more towers are needed to cover the same area. Therefore, metro areas will get covered first, and suburbs and rural areas will likely wait years before they have full 5G coverage.
Mobile’s continuing video issues
Mobile video is booming right now, in terms of viewership and ad sales. OTT subscribers watch more than two hours of mobile video each day on average, according to OpenX. U.S. advertisers will spend $16.41 billion on mobile video advertising, according to eMarketer, and $4 billion on OTT video ads this year, according to Magna Intelligence. 5G may supercharge this pace of growth, but to get there, marketers and video services need to address some of video’s issues right now.
The internet wasn’t designed to be a video distribution platform, and 5G doesn’t necessarily fix that. Slow load times and mid-stream buffering are rampant. As viewers consume more and more video on their mobile devices, the file sizes for each video are getting bigger. Both of these growth trends are outpacing the rate of improvement to the network infrastructure needed to deliver the total amount of video and the increasingly larger the files. It’s a race that the streaming video industry has been running for many years now.
While 5G could theoretically handle larger videos, the service range limitations could further complicate playback for viewers moving in and out of signal. Factor in an additional pre- or mid-roll ad load, and you’re upping the chances for something to go wrong with a stream and upset the viewer on the other end. Do that too many times, and the viewer gives up on the streaming service. Do it as a brand with an ad message, and the consumer is likely to have a negative association, regardless of whether the ad is actually causing the viewing disruption.
5G can solve some of these playback problems. But it won’t happen automatically, and it definitely won’t happen today. Any video marketer that thinks they can take a seat and wait for 5G to come along and solve their problems will likely be out of a job by the time the 5G era is in full swing.
Everyone in the mobile streaming video chain needs to put effort into solving playback issues right now if they hope to have a seat at the table. Consumers are more actively engaged in mobile video than ever before. Advertisers are eagerly investing in the channel, but if their ads are destined to upset their target audiences, through buffering, slow load times or poor quality, then advertisers aren’t getting their money’s worth. By actively collaborating with ad-supported video providers to address and improve playback issues now, advertisers can set themselves up to be in the driver’s seat when the 5G era finally arrives.
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