Back in the day, everybody shot videos horizontally. These videos filled TVs, computer monitors, YouTube players — pretty much everything — perfectly. But smartphones got increasingly popular, giving people around the world accessible videography equipment. The result: a swelling wave of vertical video.
Yes, vertical video, the format that may impose black bars on the sides of your videos and spawns heartfelt PSAs imploring against its use. Just a few years ago, shooting vertically was an unforgivable sin punishable by stints in Amateur Videographer Jail. But now, vertical has become the new black. What’s more, it’s not just here to stay — it’s here to take over.
This brings forth an important question: How did we get here?
The growth of vertical video
Just a few years ago, vertical viewing was a fringe pursuit: In 2010, it represented only 5% of multi-platform viewing time. Five years later, that figure had exploded to 29%, no doubt fueled by the prodigious adoption of smartphones around the world. Today, 35% of consumers view content on mobile devices and 46% of all video plays in Q4 2015 were on smartphones or tablets.
Online platforms have no doubt been feeling a little taller. On YouTube, for example, uploads of vertical videos boomed 50% in 2015, and the platform’s mobile app now allows vertical playback. Facebook, on which over 100 million video hours are consumed daily, has been evolving with vertical-video integration. And apps like Meerkat and Periscope were built from the ground up with vertical in mind.
Publications are also seeing the value of going vertical. Jon Steinberg of The Daily Mail’s North American team, for example, told the The New York Times he’s shooting to go 100% vertical. Just a year ago Mashable published its first story ever that included vertical video. The shifting tide toward vertical is a nod to the fact that more video is being consumed on mobile: On YouTube, for instance, over half of video views originate from mobile devices.
So, why the big rush toward vertical? Easy answer: In many ways, audiences simply think it’s superior.
Vertical for mobile is just better
Now that we’ve seen how well-received vertical video has been, many people may go so far as to say vertical is by far the better way to watch and film smartphone footage. They’d certainly have a case, seeing as phones are naturally oriented vertically and we tend to hold them that way by default. It can be awkward having to turn your phone horizontally to view videos, and — from the standpoint of many casual videographers — it’s oftentimes easier to film smartphone footage upright.
Furthermore, if you’ve ever been too lazy to turn your phone sideways to watch a horizontal video, you know how unfulfilling it is to watch a tiny video squeezed awkwardly into your phone’s vertical frame. Basically, you get a patch of video adrift in a sea of blankness.
Vertical video changes that. It naturally fills a mobile screen. It allows us to eschew phone-turning. And for many of us, it’s simply how mobile video is supposed to be.
As magical as vertical video is already, the story gets better still — data shows users simply seem to prefer vertical. According to Snapchat, the platform has seen a 9x increase in views on vertical video ads over horizontal ones. Snapchat isn’t the only one seeing gold, either: Facebook says users are more likely to watch vertical videos longer and view them with sound. If the stats are any indication, vertical video seems to be more intuitive and immersive than horizontal video. The users, apparently, love it.
Why vertical is the future
So, how did vertical get so hot? Well, there’s the social proof from countless vertical videos shot by so-called amateurs (turns out they were actually on to something). For another reason, look no further than the hottest social media apps on the planet.
To many people, Snapchat was the app that singlehandedly made the world take vertical seriously. The darling of millennials, it reaches 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds in the United States every day. It’s also popular among Gen Z, some of whom voted it the “most important” social media platform in a recent Piper Jaffray survey. Snapchat’s 100 million users consume troves of vertical content on the platform’s Stories and Discover sections, and they’re having a blast pouring their attention into fun, irreverent and trendy material. Having made such deep inroads into the hearts of young people, it’s not difficult to see why Snapchat’s Midas touch made vertical relevant.
Not to be outdone, Facebook-owned Instagram has also made forays into vertical video. Last month the company introduced Instagram Stories, which finally put tall videos front and center on the app. 55% of 18- to 29-year-olds in the U.S. are on Instagram, so the photo-sharing app is a huge draw among a young audience.
Being as popular as they are, Snapchat and Instagram had a lot of weight to throw around in terms of defining what was cool. Both apps have chosen vertical video as their de-facto video formats, solidifying vertical’s legitimacy. What’s more, they’ve found that filming vertically comes naturally to their millennial and Gen Z audiences — audiences that will drive digital taste-making for years to come. At this point, it’s clear that filming with an upright phone comes second-nature to young people. Far from being just normal, it’s now the standard.
And here’s why we should care
There’s a long list of now-irrelevant businesses who have stuck their heads in the sand and refused to evolve. They all saw the glimmer of something new and ignored its importance — or just missed it completely. It’s clear already that mobile is a sea change in video and advertising. Within mobile, however, there’s another important shift taking over. That’s vertical video.
Why are advertisers flocking to mobile? Because ever-growing numbers of users are consuming content on mobile devices. Why is vertical video so effective? Because, in an age when consumers constantly seek increasingly native and engaging experiences, vertical seems to embody what mobile was always meant to be. Vertical — in all its bold, brash glory — has arrived. And it’ll be calling the shots for many years to come.
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