Video consumption on mobile phones has been growing steadily, but spotty 3G coverage means that watching videos on the go doesn't really work out too well. You quickly get used to regular quality drops, and interruptions for buffering. Along with Android One though, Google made another announcement on Monday which is very exciting - it announced that YouTube will be available offline in India in the coming weeks. This means that people can download videos in the YouTube app when they are connected to a Wi-Fi network, and then later, the video can be watched without a data connection. This is useful for both times when your connection is poor, and also for when you want to re-watch favourite videos.
It is not clear at the moment whether this new offline option is restricted to YouTube in India, or if this will be an Android only feature, but in either case, it is a big step forward for consumers here. The demand for video on mobile has been around for a while - some telecom providers have experimented with YouTube focused data packs, which let you stream videos at a discounted data rate. Reports suggest that 3.7 billion online videos are consumed per month in the country. According to comScore, the total online video audience in India saw growth of over 70 percent in 2013 with the average viewer watching 18 percent more videos and spending 28 percent more time viewing.
The 3G networks in India are stretched thin and 4G services have been "around the corner" for some time now, so watching videos on mobiles is still a very poor experience in India, despite the growing popularity. For many of us, the best way to do this is still when you are connected to a Wi-Fi network, at home or at office.
With YouTube Offline, it would be easy to save your favourite content while you're connected to the faster Wi-Fi network at home, and then watch it on the way to work, for example. The exact details are not clear yet, but if there are no restrictions on the videos you can download, then you could even save a legally available film or television episode that is a favourite, and keep it for re-watching without ever having to pay for data again.
One interesting consideration here is to see how YouTube will be able to monetise these videos which are stored offline. With a typical YouTube video, there are all sorts of ads that pop up while you watch - there are pre-roll ads that play before the video even starts (some of which are unskippable now) and there are banners that show up below your videos. All of these require an Internet connection to work - so unless the ads are also saved offline alongside videos, it won't be possible to show the ads properly.
If YouTube Offline videos can not be monetised, will uploaders be able to decide whether the video is available offline or not? We already often have videos that won't play on phones or tablets, with the message, "The uploader has not made this video available on mobile". Commercially made videos, which could include TV shows, movies or even music videos might choose to avoid the offline availability route, if this were the case.
It will be interesting to see how Google navigates these challenges and we will no doubt know more in the next couple of weeks. However, as consumers, we have to say that this is good news even with the limited information available right now.