Remember when V.V.S. (Vertical Video Syndrome) was first declared an epidemic back in 2012 via that satirical YouTube video? For those not familiar with it, YouTube user Glove and Boots created a three-minute-long ‘Public Service Announcement’ into the ails of shooting vertical videos on mobile phones – before proceeding to lambast all those afflicted with the fictitious disease. It obviously resonated; gaining 3.2 million views within the first year of upload.
Fast forward six years and it’s a very different story. Following the launch of IGTV in June, not only are we creating more vertical videos than ever before, but we are doing so intentionally. And while this format seems, to some extent, at odds with how we should be consuming videos (as the YouTube PSA stated “motion pictures have always been horizontal, people’s eyes are horizontal”), in reality it’s just a lot easier to not have to flip your phone sideways whenever you want to watch something.
The vertical video trend was first propelled to the masses by the launch of Snapchat in 2011. The app exclusively focuses on ephemeral vertical content – so much so that their augmented reality filters won’t work if your phone is held any other way. As of January this year, 89% of Snapchat users were 18-24-year olds, showing that the app’s core demographic remains millennial. Interestingly, vertical video viewing increases as age decreases, which again suggests that consumers who grew up with horizontal-only media are slower to adopt.
Speaking about the progression of video media, Elizabeth Giorgi, CEO of global video production company Mighteor, said: “Call it the Facebook effect or Snapchat syndrome – mobile devices are changing viewers’ expectations for media consumption. It’s time to shed our perception of what media looks like and embrace non-traditional formats, which are increasingly appealing to viewers.”
In August 2016, Instagram took aim at Snapchat’s ephemeral USP when it launched its own Stories feature. It was a runaway success, and now boasts 400 million daily active users worldwide. Meanwhile Snapchat is floundering at a modest 188 million (having also lost 3 million last quarter due to a redesign faux pas).
But not content with KO’ing Snapchat, Instagram recently set its sights on YouTube, creating its stand-alone IGTV app dedicated to long-form vertical content. Explaining the move, Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom, said: “When you watch longer video, you need a different context … we really wanted to separate those two, so you could choose which adventure you wanted to go down.”
Testing The Waters
Although some creators have reservations about making the move from YouTube to IGTV – mainly because of unfamiliarity – there’s no denying that with Instagram reaching 1 billion monthly active users, IGTV has unlimited potential if harnessed correctly. Early adopters are treating the app with a ‘one-foot-in-one-foot-out’ approach as they test the waters.
In June, Tech vlogger Marques Brownlee, said: “YouTube, for me, is the primary platform … There are a lot of things [IGTV] doesn’t do still that YouTube does. It’s competing with a part of what YouTube does by focusing in a different way. Every camera shoots horizontally, so we’re all super used to framing things with lots of horizontal room … I still think there’s a lot of room to grow and creative decisions to be made to actually take advantage of vertical video.”
While hesitancy remains among some creators, YouTube itself has since adapted its aspect ratio in response to the ‘vertical movement’ so that the video player now automatically adjusts to the video’s size (meaning no more black bars at either side of a video).
Challenging The Big Screen
Youtube has also been busy expanding its YouTube Premium (previously YouTube Red) paid subscription service, by producing original series (such as Cobra Kai) and collaborative shows with high-profile creators, and making them available for free on the main site. This was done in order to position the brand as a genuine competitor to streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, as well generating premium advertising.
However, with IGTV hot on YouTube’s heels, it may not be long before the Facebook-owned platform also starts producing original series and feature-length shows. Meaning not only will we be watching more online streamed media than ever before, but we could soon be watching films vertically as well.
So despite the initial ‘Vertical Video Syndrome’ revolt, the format has gone on to defy all expectations and truly capture the zeitgeist of our times. 70% millennials don’t even turn their phone horizontally to watch video anymore — proof in itself that vertical is here to stay. There is still some way to go in terms of creative next steps and adjustment, from the likes of IGTV and YouTube, but consumers have certainly shifted their media consumption preferences. Our eyes may be horizontal, but our future is becoming ever-more vertical.