The future of video is vertical

Digital-first news organizations should produce gorgeous, high-quality vertical videos to reach a vastly growing mobile audience. It would create a better user experience for our mobile audiences for three reasons: apps are designed to be vertical, vertical videos look good on a phone and it’s easier hold a phone vertically. One study showed that mobile users user their phones in portrait mode 94 percent of the time. And 29 percent of Americans’ time on all devices is now vertical — up from 5 percent just five years ago.

Take a look Snapchat’s Discover feature, and you’ll quickly notice how awkward it is to turn the phone horizontally for each video. Snapchat has told the Daily Mail that on mobile, “vertical video ads have up to [nine times] more completed views than horizontal video ads.

Mobile drives online trafficAnd audiences are increasingly engaging with journalism on their phones. Thirty nine of the top 50 digital news sites have more traffic to their websites and associated applications coming from mobile devices than from desktop computers, the Pew Research Center recently found. And Cisco analysts predict that Mobile video will increase 13-fold between 2014 and 2019, accounting for 72 percent of total mobile data traffic by the end of the forecast period.” News organizations need to increasingly be mobile-first, and to truly embrace the way our users are consuming content on their phones. For a fully native mobile experience, vertical videos are a more seamless, integrated mobile app experience for our audiences. Not just on Snapchat, but on all mobile apps.

Status and next steps

I am currently speaking with several major news organizations about how they can produce vertical videos for mobile distribution. The idea is gaining traction. I would like to produce a live event of curated high quality mobile vertical videos for an audience. I want to give filmmakers the opportunity to explore vertical framing for all types of videos, from sports to documentaries to animations. I would love to see how these visionary artists frame their shots and tell these stories vertically for mobile.


People have a very personal relationship with their phones. Those I observed and spoke to usually watch videos while lying in bed, either soon after they wake up or right before they sleep. Those same people can easily watch hours of video on their phones, so time is not the key consideration in terms of what makes compelling video on mobile. They want a great story that will spark a conversation between them and their friends online. Many who I spoke to and observed also keep portrait lock on and will watch horizontal videos in portrait mode. They would rather tolerate the huge black lines at the top and bottom and a tiny image rather than turning their phones. The reasons vary, but mostly it’s just out of instinct. It is more comfortable to hold a phone that way and all apps are vertical, so why turn the phone just for video?

I have also heard the fiery and passionate plea for horizontal video to remain the standard from a few fellow videographers. It seems that we, in our field, are more anxious about this change. For users who are not video professionals, they understand it’s how they naturally use their phones and wonder why vertical video is such a hot-button topic. It’s time to make the content that responds to our users, rather than hold on to rules that don’t work for mobile.

This is the result of Barakat’s effort to address a challenge in journalism: How can we make watching news videos on a cellphone be a more delightful, engaging and addictive experience? Learn more about this challenge in the exploration and refinement phases of the process.