Beyond the Play Button: The Case For Vertical Video

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Is turning your phone sideways very difficult? The logical answer is - no, obviously not. However, the actual answer for most today's mobile video content consumers is proving to be, absolutely, yes. (Or perhaps, "wait, what? I was looking at Instagram and wasn't listening...")

As Snapchat continues to captivate the Millennial audience and newer video platforms like Meerkat, Periscope and MikMak fall in line with their vertical format, consumer habits are being solidified and people are getting locked into their habit of watching video in a vertical position. This is of course much to the horror of purist content creators and the segment of viewers who consider landscape format to be the only acceptable way to view digital video.

Now, I'm not arguing against this position from a creative standpoint, but take a moment to think about what your hard work on a landscape oriented piece looks like to someone who refuses to hold their phone sideways. Your lovely widescreen video is viewed as a cropped down, tiny box, occupying just a portion of the already minuscule phone screen, with black boxes above and below. That is, until the viewer gets bored of looking at something they can barely see and moves on to the next thing.

Consider this recent statement from Daily Mail North America's CEO Jon Steinberg - "We need to move even more aggressively to develop vertical content, (because) vertical video ads have up to 9x more completed views than horizontal video ads." Nine times more completed views! Clearly, as mobile viewing of video dominates, vertical video isn't just a viable format, but the one that is winning out. This is echoed by the recent announcement at Cannes that Snapchat, WPP and Daily Mail have joined forces to create an agency called Truffle Pig that exists entirely to produce vertical digital content.

Also, note Mary Meeker's (from Investment firm KPCB) eagerly awaited 2015 Internet Trends presentation. Three slides of her deck are devoted to vertical video, one that includes a statistic that 29 percent of mobile video viewing is vertical.

So, apologies to the purists, but the age of vertical video is upon us.

So what does this mean for the content creator? I contend that the language of film, at least as it's communicated in the digital and mobile space, needs to be adjusted to the vertical format. It is a limited option at best to simply crop and "pan and scan" horizontally composed videos to conform to this more popular format. This may have been a patch that worked as widescreen movies made their way to television, but it ignores the potential for today's content creators to tell stories in a different way. In making this transition to vertical video format, there are a few key factors for content creators to keep in mind to optimize their success.

1) Your video should tell a clear narrative, regardless of whether the user is viewing the video with sound or without. Most video views will likely be on mobile devices where people are less inclined to tune in with sound, so your video still needs to tell a cohesive story, regardless of the viewer and the environment in which they are watching.

2) Content creators should view vertical video not as a limitation, but as a new creative challenge to overcome. As it does have some restrictions, the real power players in vertical video will be the ones that use those restrictions to make something different and innovative.

Embracing new mediums like this one will always come with challenges, but it's the way in which we embrace those challenges that will provide more effective and engaging brand experiences for consumers.