Handheld screens will account for more than 20% of total video viewing minutes in the United States by 2025, according to a new report. Yet the majority of viewing on tablets and smartphones is currently in the home. Perhaps we need to think more about the context of viewing on personal screens rather than talking about mobile video as if it were a particular medium.

The report by Joel Espelien of TDG Research forecasts viewing trends from 2015 to 2025, based on device and distribution channel.

“The concept of ‘watching television’ is being redefined,” writes the author of the report, “transforming from a social medium characterized by groups of viewers sitting in front of the living room television, to an individual medium defined by solitary viewers watching programs on smaller, more personal devices such as tablets and smartphones.”

This transformation represents the replacement of mass-market broadcasting by personalized video apps, some of which are already generating half of their total video traffic from such devices.

According to TDG Research, the future of television is an app. As a result it suggests there will be a shift in viewing from legacy television platforms and personal computers to mobile video.

The report points to the strong personal relationship that people have with their mobile screens, which are attracting a growing share of total video viewing.

Currently, around 80% of video viewing on tablets and about 50% of that on smartphones takes place in the home. “It’s less about ‘mobile viewing’ as commonly imagined and more about the individualization and personalization of TV itself.”

It is notably only eight years since the announcement of the first Apple iPhone and less than five since the iPad was launched. As video becomes more widely available on smartphones and tablets, screen size and resolution continues to rise and the quality of video improves, it is not difficult to imagine viewing on them starting to replace a substantial amount of time watching the large screen in the living room, particularly among younger users.

The latest Ericsson Mobility Report forecasts that there will be a ten-fold growth in mobile video traffic between 2014 and 2020, when 55% of all mobile data traffic will be from video. At the end of 2014 it estimates there were around 7.1 billion mobile subscriptions. Around 1.3 billion smartphones were sold in 2014, accounting for three-quarters of all mobile phones sold. Around 40% of all mobile phone subscriptions are associated with smartphones, so there is still significant room for growth.

Although network operators are concerned about the growth of mobile video traffic, the majority of video viewing on these screens is likely to be delivered over Wi-Fi networks, from downloaded files or sideloaded storage.

According to Nielsen, in the third quarter of 2014 those aged 18-24 in the United States spent 1 hour 26 minutes a week watching video on the internet, compared to 17 hours 34 minutes a week watching traditional television. However on average they spent 9 hours and 40 minutes a week using apps on smartphones, of which 29 minutes was watching video.

Tablets and mobile devices now account for half of all requests for television programmes on the BBC iPlayer in the United Kingdom, with a quarter on personal computers and the rest on television devices. Even with a record 264 million requests in January, with episodes of some programmes receiving nearly two million requests, the iPlayer only accounts for a few per cent of total BBC television viewing.

Yet add to this viewing of other online services, including Netflix, YouTube, Facebook and others, and video on smaller screens is becoming increasingly important. It can no longer be characterised as ‘mobile video’ as if it is a particular medium, any more than one talks of mobile email or mobile radio.

So, informitv agrees that video viewing on handheld screens will only continue to rise and that the result is a more personal, intimate viewing experience. This addresses certain viewing contexts or need states, although there will still be a role for the more social shared viewing experience of a larger screen.

While some people seem to believe that bigger screens are better, and assume that watching in the living room will always be preferable, the quality of video that can be delivered to smaller screens continues to increase. Social factors may also play a part, such as age, family size, room size, or long commutes to work by public transport.

As a result, the proportion of viewing on personal screens may be even higher outside North America. Indeed, as a proportion of all viewing worldwide we expect it to be much more significant in the next decade. If anything, 20% represents a conservative estimate.

TV Gets Personal — Trends in Mobile Video Viewing, 2015-2025 is published by TDG. The Ericsson Mobility Report is available from Ericsson. The Total Audience Report is published by Nielsen.