The Rise of Vertical Video – A Change in Perspective

Do you prefer to watch video on your phone while holding it upright or by flipping it horizontally? Apps such as Snapchat, Periscope, Meerkat, and Vervid are betting on the vertical viewing preference, but there are critics who maintain that videos taken in portrait mode are amateurish.

The Disruption of the Widescreen Format

Long has the widescreen format been the norm. We see movies and videos at the theaters, on TV’s, and on personal computers on screens that are wider than they are tall. Critics argue that we live in a horizontal world and mostly see action from left to right. While there have been several websites and YouTube videos with strong messages against the rise of vertical videos, Vincent Bova and Damien Eckhardt-Jacobi, the puppeteers who host the YouTube series, Glove and Boots, have been among the most prominent critics. In 2012, they issued a PSA, Vertical Video Syndrome to talk about the “very serious problem”, which has garnered nearly 7 million views and over nine thousand comments.

The argument that our horizontal field of view is wider than our vertical field of view and, consequently, we should naturally watch in a horizontal orientation, is becoming less relevant with the growing number of smartphone users.

Change in Consumption Habits

According to the 2015 Internet Trends Report from the famous Venture Capitalist, Mary Meeker, we now spend 29% of our multi-platform view time on a vertical screen.

Vertical Video Viewing 2


This change in consumption habit favors mobile devices that people tend to hold upright and with one hand. With the growing number of smartphone users, anticipated at 6.1 Billion or 70% of the world’s population by 2020, the industry is taking vertical videos more seriously and acknowledging its potential to become a far-reaching trend.

Those who have embraced the vertical video argue that our hands are best suited to hold objects vertically. The experience is more comfortable when seeing images and videos that fill the screen. With horizontal videos, phone viewers are put off by the black space above and below the image, or the effort of having to flip the phone to fill the screen with a larger image. Additionally, people are taller than wide and, in this age of personal videos, shots of individuals tend to look better in a vertical orientation.

Apps Embracing Vertical Video

With the shift to mobile video consumption, social and video apps are prioritizing vertically oriented videos. YouTube announced that 50% of total views come from mobile devices and has recently updated its iOS and Android apps to play vertical videos in full screen. Facebook has created new mobile ads that use vertical video to capture attention. Even Instagram recently broke from its square format to become more relevant within the growing vertical video environment.

Mobile-born platforms, such as Snapchat, Periscope, Meerkat, and Vervid, primarily operate in vertical mode. For Snapchat, it is at the epicenter of their pitch to marketers. According to Snapchat, vertical video ads have up to nine times more completed views than horizontal video ads.

As a result, leading media companies are jumping on board and approaching their content creations with a vertical perspective. Mashable has a new vertical video player, and Daily Mail, claiming that “the engagement is much higher”, is going 100% vertical.

Mobile Devices are a New Medium

For media companies, brands and marketers that are looking to more meaningfully engage their audiences, this shift in consumer behavior is significant. Reaching audiences is most effective when formatting the creative to be “native” to the medium in which it is presented. Small mobile devices may be treated as another medium requiring a new vertical creative in order to achieve an optimal experience.

Ultimately, whether video is presented in a vertical or horizontal format, videos first have to be compelling and provide value to viewers with a clear direction of where they should go next. Having accomplished this, marketers can then amplify their creative by taking a more platform- and vendor-specific approach.

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