Horizontal, Vertical, Square? Why Every Shape Has a Place in Your Video Strategy

By admin 

Screen-Shot-2015-08-27-at-10.31.03-AMFrom King David to the Karate Kid, everyone loves a good underdog story. Long dismissed by purists, the vertical format (aka “portrait” orientation) is going mainstream and marking a major shift in the evolution of online video on mobile. It’s already creating waves in the industry: this week Instagram finally went beyond the square format to support vertical and horizontal photos, while in June landscape-friendly YouTube revamped their Android mobile app for vertical.

This shift is not surprising. Vertical simply works better with the way the average consumer records and consumes content on the go. As mobile video continues to surge in popularity in apps like Snapchat, Vine and Meerkat, it’s only natural that the video format that matches the vertical orientation of today’s most popular smartphones would grow as well. The acceptance of the portrait orientation is a good thing for the industry, and I predict it will lead to more content creation, wider consumer adoption and overall growth in the online video market. With all these benefits, why has vertical video been such a taboo?

The answer is elitism. Horizontal video has historically been considered a “professional” format of cinematic art, while vertical has been sneered at as the way your less-than-tech-savvy relatives film home videos. It’s high time that the industry shifts to accept and optimize for a diversity of formats to fit the preferences of today’s multifaceted video consumer. Here’s how:


Accept the mobile-first revolution: With feature films now being shot on iPhones and shows with top-tier creative talent broadcasting on Snapchat, it’s clear that a golden age of mobile video is fast approaching. As younger generations look to mobile-based, user-generated video content as their source of entertainment, many traditional content creators still focus solely on movie and television screens. While landscape may be the more widely-accepted artistic standard of film and television, it’s not always a great fit for mobile devices. Instead of writing off mobile and its corresponding vertical format as amateur, content creators need to accept the changing preferences of their consumers as a mandate for change.

Video isn’t one-size-fits-all: While the vertical format may be a great fit for watching short videos on your Android phone, it may not work for the season premiere of Game of Thrones. In today’s industry, content, platform and screen orientation need to work together to engage with the viewer in the most targeted way possible. Content creators shouldn’t pigeonhole themselves by investing only in horizontal formats optimized for desktop computers, TVs and movie screens. Instead, they should strive to create a diverse range of complementary videos that work with what each screen and platform has to offer—whether it be a vertically-oriented video series on Snapchat or an hour-long drama on an OTT service.

Don’t be afraid to be a square: Optimizing for the diversity of screens is no easy task. If creating a mix of vertical and horizontal content isn’t feasible for you, consider shooting or editing in a square format. Instagram embraced the square format from the start and removed the orientation issue altogether, allowing creators to present their content in a digestible way everywhere. Square videos could incense the traditionalists even more than vertical, but in my opinion we should challenge convention and experiment freely.

The industry is changing fast, and by this time next year who knows, maybe octagonal video will be all the rage. As traditional creators are pressured to adapt to the new digital media world, it’s understandable that there will be growing pains. While many may not like breaking with the cinematic tradition of horizontal orientation, exploring all the options available through strategic investment in new platforms and formats is the first—and necessary—step in securing a strong future not only individual content creators, but the online video industry as a whole.


John Luther is senior vice president of product strategy at JW Player, a New York-based startup that pioneered video on the web. 

John has worked in digital video for more than 12 years and is a recognized online media industry expert. As svp of product strategy, John keeps JW Player customers on the leading edge of video technology through product innovation, industry leadership and involvement in web standards.