Embracing Vertical: A Study In User Habits


The good ol' days.

Several years ago I ran across a blog whose whole reason for existence was to convince people to hold their smartphones horizontally when recording video. I remember thinking, “Of course that’s how you’re supposed to hold it. Who wouldn’t hold it that way?” But as it turns out, I was in the minority. Most people had a hard time getting used to holding their phones sideways for videos. So much so, in fact, that the industry gave up trying to convince the users, and instead has begun to accommodate for their lack of willingness to “play ball”.


Why horizontal at all?

Even though the vast majority of smartphone users keep their phones in the vertical, or portrait, position the bulk of the time, it made sense to me that in order to maximize screen size, we’d all turn our phones to the horizontal, or landscape, positions when watching video. And at first, that was the overriding thought in the industry. After all, if you were to turn your phone sideways, it looks an awful lot like a very small version of your televisions at home. So, any content made for your television would look best when in landscape, right?


If you can't beat em...

Well, never underestimate the laziness of a modern technology user! It turns out that users just never really caught up with the whole rotating the phone thing. As early as 2014 it was reported that users held their phones vertically 94% of the time. That’s pretty overwhelming. So, those folks like me who were fighting the good fight of having people record their videos “properly” simply lost in the end. And if the users are going to stick with vertical, then the industry was simply going to need to figure out ways to accommodate.

It’s no secret that social media is becoming one of the top ways of viewing video online. However, in the old days, that meant that a typical horizontal video being displayed on a vertical phone would fill up a relatively small amount of the screen. And how does the industry as a whole solve this problem and allow for video to fill more of the screen? Enter square and vertical video!

As of 2017, all major social media channels have updated their platforms to allow for square and vertical formats without adding any black bars to fill a frame. Even YouTube, who had previously done what they could to force users into to filming horizontally, has now embraced the format. Taking matters a step further, when Instagram introduced their new IGTV format, they announced that all videos on that extension MUST be in a vertical format. Heck, there’s even a Vertical Film Festival that is becoming more popular every year.

In short, when the industry found out they couldn’t force people into doing what they wanted, they figured they should make the new viewing experience as optimal as possible.

Furthermore, along with just pleasing the masses, it turns out there are further benefits to these new formats. The recent changes have allowed for users to engage with the content, along with reactions and comments in a more familiar way. And perhaps most importantly, it’s a money maker. It turns out that all of the major social networks are reporting that the vertical and square ads get viewed more, and lead to significantly higher conversion rates.

What do we do now?

Personally, I’m a bit of a purist and I still appreciate the aesthetics of nicely framed widescreen shot. And to tell the truth, there’s still plenty of room for that in the video world. Even though the industry is clearly moving towards square and vertical for online use, all of the social networks still play very nicely with the old school horizontal format. And, if you work with a good production team like the one at Scofield, you will hopefully be able to shoot a single project in such a way that you’ll be able to produce versions in any of the popular formats, so you can get the best of both worlds.

Questions? Comments? Please reach out if we can help with anything video related.    

Jason Cooper