The World Is Now Moving Vertically

Ever since smartphones became popular, there’s been an ongoing debate about how to use them to shoot video: in horizontal “landscape” mode or vertically, the way most people hold their phones.

Though fans of the latter have been told that they’re doing it wrong for years, now the industry is starting to come around to their view. 

Case in point: A production company in Santa Monica has constructed a set designed to be viewed vertically. In this case, it’s the set of a kitchen, which has extra tall cabinets that are meant to be viewed in the upright position. The studio, Tastemade, creates food and lifestyle videos that are designed for Snapchat.

That’s just one piece of evidence for a turnaround this year. Advertisers are suddenly starting to realize that, more and more, people are viewing video on their mobile devices, particularly phones and they prefer to do so vertically, not the typical way, horizontally. I believe that this will soon become the standard for online video.

As Ad Age previously noted, a big impetus for the move towards vertical is Snapchat. Run a horizontal video on Snapchat and you force the viewer to turn their phone. Admittedly, this isn’t a huge deal, but it upsets the user experience and probably prompts a few opt-outs – or many, if Snapchat is to be believed -- that wouldn’t occur with vertical.

That’s why AT&T, Macy’s, Burger King and Taco Bell have shifted to vertical recently. Meanwhile, Snapchat itself has become a huge proponent of vertical. During the Cannes Lions advertising festival in June, the company repeatedly made the case for vertical, claiming that users were nine times more likely to watch an entire ad if they didn’t have to turn their phone.

In March, Twitter offered another reason to embrace so-called landscape view: Periscope, the real-time video app, which broadcasts vertically. Facebook’s new mobile ad prototype is also vertical-friendly. In July, Google also revamped its Android YouTube app to accommodate vertical.

Media companies are also jumping on board. In August, Mashable ran its first video-based story using the vertical format. Male-centered media company Spike has also shifted to vertical.

In a way, it’s surprising that it’s taking this long. In Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Analyst Mary Meeker’s closely watched 2015 Internet Trends report, she noted that vertical video now accounts for 29% of time spent on screens.

While mobile video will never encompass 100% of the market, in 2014, mobile consumption of digital media surpassed desktop-based consumption for the first time, according to comScore.

Taking this into account, it’s clear that vertical has a lot of advantages over horizontal. For one thing, you can view video with a free hand while you’re multitasking without having to awkwardly turn your phone and arm in an unnatural way. That way, you can multitask while viewing, a common activity for all of us.

Vertical is also the obvious default for mobile video. Marketers need to talk to consumers in ways that are native to the platform. Just like you need to learn the German language and culture to market to Germans, you need to go vertical to talk to mobile-native consumers.

Turning your phone may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it gets in the way of the entertainment experience. Consumers these days don’t have the time. If you’re not making things easier for them, your competitor will.

Doing so takes effort. If you’re a savvy marketer, you’ve probably already figured out that you need to tailor messaging differently on Facebook compared to Twitter or else you’ll look like a novice and be ineffective. Mobile now requires a similar translation for video.

In the near future, this will seem obvious, but, like the Fosbury Flop, it will take a bit of time until everyone sees the benefits.

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