The world of online video is rapidly developing, with an exponential expansion of smartphones and tablets. This presents problems and opportunities for online video publishers. There will soon be more smartphone screens than televisions in some markets, but many players seem poorly prepared.

An IHS white paper prepared for Videoplaza points to an expected proliferation of video capable devices over the coming years.

By the end of 2017, IHS expects there will be over a billion video capable network connected devices in Western Europe, with the largest category being smartphones, followed by personal computers and then tablets, all ahead of smart televisions.

The number of smartphones will exceed the total number of televisions in the region. There will be nearly three times as many video-capable connected devices in total as there will be television sets. That is about 2.5 devices per person.

That may mean that video may be more personal, particularly in the context of advertising.

The paper advises video publishers to develop what it calls a data strategy to track and connect audiences across screens, enabling them to establish the unique value of their viewers.

That essentially means being able to uniquely identify individual users, generally through some sort of registration or sign on process.

Global players like Facebook, Google and Apple understand the value of this. Facebook has over a billion users that are active at least once a month. Google is approaching a billion activated Android devices. Apple has the payment card details for nearly 600 million user accounts.

Yet broadcasters have been strangely slow to ask viewers their name, coming from a world where largely anonymous viewers have historically accounted for by the million through panel research.

Some like Channel Four in the United Kingdom have seen value in real data about their audience. Others like the BBC have freely provided online programming to anyone in the country without really stopping to ask who is watching.

Only recently have broadcasters in Europe started to collaborate on ideas like single sign-on schemes to track viewers across screens and services.

It seems to be slowly occurring to broadcasters that there might be shared benefits for them to be able to count viewers across their channels and different viewing devices, to take advantage of their vast collective reach. Rather than waiting for panel based measurement to catch up with online viewers, they could simply ask their viewers directly who is watching.

Of course this is potentially a huge turnoff for online viewers, unless it is handled sensitively.

Service providers are in a better position to know exactly who is watching, whether they are offering online video as part of a subscription service, as a standalone proposition, or as part of a communications package.

Some of them are already exploiting this to understand their customers, but many are still simply verifying the entitlement of users to access a service, without necessarily tying this into addressable and accountable advertising.

Mobile network operators in particular appear to be slow to exploit the opportunities and they risk being bypassed as much online video will be delivered over WiFi networks.

The IHS report for Videoplaza on A future for TV is subtitled “The publisher as audience architect”. That perhaps points to a different problem. Broadcasters have historically had audiences. Publishers have had readers. Online video has viewers. The key to effective advertising is knowing a bit more about them.

A future for TV: The publisher as audience architect is an IHS whitepaper for Videoplaza and is available to download from the research section of the Videoplaza web site.