Maybe Vertical Video Isn’t That Evil After All?

Maybe Vertical Video Isn’t That Evil After All?

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You know what drives me crazy. Vertical video. I get a little tick in my eye whenever I see one. I also do most of my browsing on a desktop PC, so it doesn’t matter how “wrong” vertical video is to me, because the fact of the matter is it’s so right for a growing population of mobile viewers.

For most smartphone users, it is just easier and more natural to hold it one-handed in a vertical orientation. It’s for this reason apps like Snapchat have designed their app to function best when the phone is being held vertically. As mobile viewers increase, so too does the benefit of shooting videos vertical. What was once seen as poor internetiquette (check out this “PSA“), is becoming preferred among mobile viewers and can actually increase your viewership if you have a primarily mobile audience. YouTube however have some sympathy for the user, and has announced that its Android App will soon have the ability to play vertical videos in full screen.

Vertical Video Ads: 9x More Completed Views 

vertical videoAccording to Snapchat, “vertical video ads have up to 9x more completed views than horizontal video ads”. Just let that point sink in a moment. If you’re making content for a mobile audience, which should at least be a part of your approach, you should consider making vertical content. As I’ve already established, I’m a horizontal snob, so I’m not going to suggest you abandon horizontal across the board. But I will say that you need to consider your audience to an even greater degree now.

If you are expecting your content to show on TV or desktops, horizontal is the way to go. But content consumed on mobile needs to seriously consider shooting vertical. Just look at a company like Vervid, who is launching an entire platform, based entirely on vertical video.

Vertical vs Horizontal: Cross-Platform Comparisons

A look at some of the most successful videos of the past year highlights the need to consider vertical video, but it also reinforces the biggest factor in online video – make great content.

On YouTube, horizontal video is still at the top, especially when it comes to professionally-produced music video content, the type of video that generates some of the most views on the platform. I did find a couple of exceptions to the rule – Rihanna And Kanye West and Paul McCartney – FourFiveSeconds being one, but it’s horizontal all the way when it comes to this category. Despite the growing segment of mobile users, I can’t help but recommend you stick with horizontal video if YouTube is the primary destination for your viewers, even if they are on mobile. There is something to be said for the charm and authenticity of a vertical video, but YouTube’s platform and the video views suggest that viewers are much more willing to rotate their phone to enjoy the content. The top 15 most viewed videos on YouTube (top 5 shown below) in the past year were all shot in horizontal:

top 5 most watched videos on YouTube july 2014 to july 2015
Top 5 Most Viewed Videos on YouTube 07/14/14 to 07/14/15 (Data via Tubular)

Mobile Video Apps: Pushing the Vertical View

If you are posting to Vine, Instagram or Snapchat you’re pretty much tied to the format of the app. Each of these apps either post videos vertically or at the least are a derivative of vertical video. It makes sense though because these apps were all created with mobile in mind, so it’s no surprise that not only are you forced to post vertically, but that’s what works best on mobile. If any of these platforms is the primary destination for your video, vertical video should be the primary vehicle for distribution. It also helps to be Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift if you’re on Instagram apparently.

According to Tubular data, the most-watched Vine of the past 30 days was this little gem from OMG Fails with over 55 million views. Shot in vertical, it’s a good illustration of how the viewer is drawn in as a participant to the scene. Imagine the same video but shot in horizontal – wouldn’t you feel more of a spectator, and wouldn’t that subtly change your perception of the video?

Facebook: User-generated Vertical is a Winner

When it comes to Facebook video, there’s a surprisingly good mix of vertical and horizontal video that works well on the platform, although user-generated content shot in portrait certainly attracts a healthy number of views. The most watched video uploaded to Facebook in the past 7 days is this clip uploaded by Speed Society. It has generated just under 56 million views (at time of writing), and over 1.6 million engagements.

Using the data available from Tubular, I also looked at some of the most-viewed videos on Facebook in the last 365 days, and it was a fairly even split in terms of footage shot in portrait, and footage shot in vertical. The following are the five most-watched videos on Facebook in the last 12 months:

It’s interesting to note that the Zombie Train video at #3 was shot horizontally, then skewed to fit a vertical box and bars added to the top and bottom. This particular video mixed so many of my video pet peeves into one video and yet still has a massive number of views. It really goes to show that many viewers don’t actually care the quality of the video nor the way it was shot, they just want entertaining/great content. This mix really speaks to the diverse nature of Facebook viewers, who are watching both at their desk and on the go. Unlike the other platforms I’ve discussed so far, you have to really know who you are targeting if you are posting primarily to Facebook.

So what does it all mean? For years, it’s been hammered in our heads that vertical content is just plain wrong. As such most content has been created not only horizontally, but with that creative destination in mind. Now, I’m not suggesting that you capture a volcano exploding with vertical video, for me that’s still just plain lazy and ignorant. Even viewed on mobile I’d much rather see the full landscape magnitude of the event. But instead use this data to consider your audience and find new ways to present your content given not only the type of content, but where and how the audience will be consuming it. Think about serving up some vertical video to your mobile viewers and let us know how it performs.


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