The way you watch videos online is changing – will media ever catch up?

Published on July 17, 2015

Vertical video is a hotly contested medium. But, is it set to become the new standard as we continue to embrace mobile viewing?

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding vertical video recently, following the introduction of Snapchat’s Discover feature. A host of major companies, including the Daily Mail, Sky Sports and National Geographic, advertise within the app with its default vertical format, and they reach thousands of viewers per day. Similarly, Periscope and Meerkat operate solely in vertical mode, as it’s the most conducive to single-handed viewing.
But vertical video is not without its critics. The internet backlash to the use of vertical video has spawned a song and a dedicated website complete with a PSA warning against Vertical Video Syndrome. The critics take umbrage to the fact that vertical videos are not designed to complement the way we naturally see. A human’s horizontal field of vision is wider than our vertical field, so we are essentially designed to see the world in widescreen.

Is vertical video really that bad?

Of course, vertical isn’t the standard. But if we hadn’t challenged convention, we’d still be renting DVDs from Blockbuster. The truth is, vertical video has potential and this has to be recognized; 29% of total time spent on screens is now attributed to vertical viewing.

It’s undeniably a departure from the industry standard of landscape, cinematic shots. But which industries defined this standard? Film and media. It harks back to the days where everything was displayed on televisions, and landscape video was more suited to this medium.
In film, the main concern is usually framing a wide breadth of objects, especially since most of our interactions happen on a similar horizontal plane. But on mobile a wide frame is not as important as the central subject. Vertical video allows you to record the salient information while excluding the superfluous.
Today, audiences are increasingly engaging with media on their phone, with data showing that major news sites now get significantly more traffic from mobile devices. It’s imperative to be mobile-first and recognize the way people are consuming content and produce content specifically tailored to the natural vertical viewing experience.
Although there is still resistance and scepticism, the data speaks volumes. Out of the companies advertising on Snapchat, some of them have used existing horizontal content, but Snapchat have revealed that vertical ads have up to 9x more completed views; it’s a new medium, so it makes sense that it has a new aesthetic – one that truly capitalizes on the value of the emerging platform.

The value of vertical

By making use of vertical video, your company has the opportunity to create a better user experience for your mobile audience. It’s simple: apps are designed in portrait mode, vertical videos provide the best mobile viewing experience, and your phone was designed to primarily be used vertically, with studies showing that people use their phone in portrait mode over 90% of the time.
In order to provide a fully native user experience, vertical videos offer a more integrated and seamless in-app experience. We may be the laziest generation yet, but watching a tiny letterboxed video on your phone is often preferable to turning your phone sideways, especially if you have your orientation lock on.
Be it instinct, comfort or, indeed, laziness, this behaviour shouldn’t be ignored. It may seem as if it’s an infinitesimal difference in the viewing experience, but the data speaks for itself. The content should respond to the user and their preference rather than to convention that doesn’t apply to mobile.

So, why is there still resistance to vertical video?

Digital is an industry that thrives on change, but for other industries, tradition comes out on top. The idea of horizontal video as the norm has become so entrenched in our psyche that any challenge is going to be met with opposition.


Image: Redditor Mungo9000

As a new advertising space, the options for vertical video placement will be limited. Outside of apps, will advertisers be able to repurpose the content? Maybe not, but the production costs will be reduced, and what you achieve for what you spend will be significantly more than traditional advertising methods.
Similarly, the need to overhaul production style in order to properly create advertisements for this new medium could be a deterrent, especially as it’s a largely untested platform. But it is becoming apparent that people need to abandon their old ideals and create new ones that work best for their industry and their customers in the digital landscape which is constantly in flux.
It’s only a matter of time before sites like YouTube change their format to accommodate full resolution vertical frames, as half of their views are already coming from mobile devices. Think comments and suggested content running alongside the vertical video, as opposed to underneath.

Vertical longevity

Although many people still dismiss vertical video as amateurish, it’s time to take it seriously. Media consumption habits are changing dramatically and mobile is becoming the norm rather than the exception. The rise of apps like Meerkat, Periscope and Snapchat are forcing a change of perspective, as they prove that vertical video delivers the best results to a mobile-focused audience.
Despite the fact that the iPhone has increased in height from an initial 4.5 inches to 6.22 inches (on the 6 Plus), adoption of video that takes this into account has been slow. It’s about time people tapped into the growing need to create video specifically for mobile viewing. With 50% of YouTube views being mobile, we can extrapolate that this is probably the same across all platforms.
Vertical video needs to become an industry standard in its own right, instead of being shunned in favour of a standard borrowed from a different industry. Although uptake has been slow, vertical video is set to become a mainstay in the field of digital advertising.
We’re already seeing many companies making steps towards embracing vertical video, and the early adopters will probably see marked success and set the ball rolling across the industry as a whole.