Introduced in the late 1920s, the first TV set was a heavy square box with a screen not much bigger than an iPad. At last year’s CES, Samsung announced a 4K 146-inch micro-LED TV called The Wall that was nearly as big as, well, a wall.
If TVs continue to get bigger, soon they won’t fit in your house. And anyway, if you wanted to watch something blown up to larger than life proportions, you can still go to that old place called the cinema — if yours is still open.
For a long time, being able to watch anything at all on a screen was a novelty. Soon after, the buzz faded and the new thing was being able to watch something worth watching on a big screen.
Now, you can watch anything, anywhere, at any hour, and on several devices simultaneously. Viewers today don’t care about size; they are barely aware that telecommunications is an innovation and marvel that once never existed; they grew up with tablet in hand. To them, internet access and high-quality streaming is a human right.
As such, the young and modern viewer is less and less impressed by big screens and big-budget productions, and more excited about things like live streaming and short, catchy, lip-synced music videos.
The modern viewer lives on the go, jumping from one experience to the next and never stopping to think why. They don’t want to sit down and just watch a movie or show; they want their viewing to be an interactive experience that is convenient, personal, sharable, and that makes them feel like they’re a key — no, central — part of the action.
This is where vertical video comes in. Vertical video is the original mobile and user-centred medium. The term describes content that’s shot in the 16:9 aspect ratio characteristic of smartphone cameras. So you don’t need a high priced DSLR and a production suite to get into it. Because of this, and some other reason’s we’ll go into, the playing field is much more level compared to other marketing mediums, with the barrier to entry for small businesses being pretty much equal to that of big media houses.
Vertical video may not seem much of a revelation. But what it represents is the dawn of a new age of video consumption, and for that and the reasons below it bears paying close attention to.
Catch the viewer’s undivided attention
At least until AR glasses are cool and subtle enough to actually wear them, the best way to capture someone’s attention is through the device that appears to be constantly glued to their palms.
Unlike desktop, smartphone screens limit the user to viewing one app, panel, or tab at a time. And as video that’s made for a horizontal ratio is a strain unless you turn your phone — which few people are willing to do — that means users love video content that’s made for vertical.
It also means that, even if it’s just for a few moments, you’ve taken over their screen and attention. With vertical video, the user can swipe to the next clip or story, but if your content is good then they the easiest thing is to keep enjoying it. The stats back this up; Snapchat, who pretty much pioneered the approach, found vertical video outperforms horizontal by nine times.
Social media is a mobile platform
Social media was made for mobile. Just try and go to the desktop version of any big social platform and, if there even is one, you’ll quickly see how they’re built around the small vertical screen of a smartphone.
But it’s more than that. Social media is about sharing, connecting, and staying in contact with the world and people while on the move. A good demonstration of this is Stories. After first being launched by Snapchat, the quick and digestible vertical and ephemeral snippets of photos and video is now a feature offered by most the big social sites including Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and YouTube.
The core idea behind Stories is content that’s shot in the moment using your phone — i.e. it’s vertical. Stories therefore have nothing to do with you being a corporate giant with an infinite marketing budget; all that matters is you tell a good story and deliver something that’s relevant, authentic, and relatable.
A truly up close and personal look
As they always appear to have been shot on a smartphone, Stories offer something that other means of advertising and marketing simply can’t. They break down the barrier between brand and customer and reveal what’s behind the suits and glass facades.
You can see this with the rise of the social media influencer. With a little bit of backstory, honesty, and personality (some more than others), they act as a sort of bridge between the cold, disconnectedness of the corporate world and the realness of the person on the street. Done well, they’re able to drive sales unlike any TV or Google ad ever could.
The appeal of many influencers is that they speak to an audience about things they care about, in their own language. Brands often do the former, but fall flat latter. The key, then, isn’t just getting a well-known influencer on board; it’s about the level of transparency you bring to your marketing. By using a smartphone camera to capture content in much the same way your users or customers could, it puts you on their level. Arguably more effectively than influencers, as they often apply various filters that taint and question their legitimacy — not to mention their value is based on how long and well they can ride the wave of popularity.
Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Connect with him on LinkedIn and find more articles on work, technology, spirituality, and everything in between.