Futures Lab Update #131: Experimenting With Vertical Video

    by Reuben Stern
    December 3, 2015
    The push for vertical video comes a lot from the way audiences are naturally viewing videos on their phones -- vertically. Screenshot courtesy of RJI.


    This week we explore what’s different about creating and displaying video in a vertical format — in other words, aligned to the way mobile audiences tend to hold their smartphones.

    "A big part of the push for vertical video came from apps outside of traditional news." -- Katy Mersmann, Futures Lab

    News organizations like Mashable and the New York Times have published experiments with video optimized for vertical smartphone screens, while AJ+ has embraced square video as a way to serve both mobile and desktop viewers.


    Our report explains some of the reasoning and challenges involved. It also provides an example of how traditional news video might look if turned in a new direction.

    Reporting by Katy Mersmann.

    Additional information:

    • Our detailed explanation of how we created a vertical video includes links to equipment and information about each stage of the process.
    • Mashable developed the capability to embed and display vertical videos through an in-house production team and was the first to have such a player, according to Adweek.
    • The New York Times created separate desktop and mobile versions of a video about a Justin Bieber pop song. When accessed from a desktop computer the video plays horizontally, but on mobile devices it plays vertically.
    • AJ+ posts occasional square videos along with more common horizontal videos on its Facebook page.
    • YouTube’s Android and iOS app updates released in July enable vertical video to be played full-screen without the black bars on either side, Digiday reports.
    • Vervid is a social media platform dedicated solely to vertical video. The app has two primary purposes: editing vertical video on phones and hosting and storing the finished videos. Vervid does have some limitations: There’s a five-minute time limit for uploaded content; the platform’s newness means the audience is still relatively small; and so far there’s only an iOS version.
    • Zena Barakat, a former senior producer of video at The New York Times, spent a year studying mobile video as a JSK Fellow at Stanford. She urges news organizations to “produce gorgeous, high-quality vertical videos to reach a vastly growing mobile audience.”
    • An in-depth consideration of vertical video offers this as the bottom line: “For years, it’s been hammered in our heads that vertical content is just plain wrong,” but in the end “many viewers don’t actually care the quality of the video nor the way it was shot, they just want entertaining/great content.”

    Reuben Stern is the deputy director of the Futures Lab at the Reynolds Journalism Institute and host and co-producer of the weekly Futures Lab video update.

    FuturesLabWebBanner-mediashiftThe Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Futures Lab video update features a roundup of fresh ideas, techniques and developments to help spark innovation and change in newsrooms across all media platforms. Visit the RJI website for the full archive of Futures Lab videos, or download the iPad app to watch the show wherever you go. You can also sign up to receive email notification of each new episode.

    Tagged: aj+ horizontal video mobile news rji rji futures lab smartphones vertical video vervid video youtube

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