Flipping The Script: Rise Of Vertical Video On Smartphones

Image of vertical video capturing an individual saving a cat

In this age of smartphones, came the dawn of a new type of content: short-form media and with it, we began to see video changing from it’s standard 16:9 horizontal ratio to something new and bizarre – vertical video.

It All Started in Edison’s Lab (4:3)

Depending on your age, you may not even remember the first aspect ratio however it was BIG; for a whole generation in fact. Created in Thomas Edison’s own laboratory by William Kennedy Dickson; a staff photographer. In the 1890s, Edison creates the Kinetoscope – the first movie projector and it’s up to Dickson to create the film-strips to accompany it.

The Eastman Kodak Company (who would later just be known as Kodak) began mass-producing film and Dickson decided that their 35mm film would be the best fit, he devised four permutations in the film and hence 4:3 was born. Once the Motion Picture Patent Company (a trust of major American film companies) made it the standard for U.S. cinema, Dickson’s legacy was set.

The Widescreen Wars (16:9)

As technology improved, U.S. cinema sales were declining and widescreen was being developed by multiple companies to save the film industry (which it perhaps did ultimately). Many to be fair, could be considered fads they were impressive but were too costly to mass-produce; from the Academy Ratio (1.37:1) to Cinerama (2.59:1 to 2.65:1) to CinemaScope (2.35:1 to 2.66:1).

TVs, for the most part, stayed with the tried-and-tested 4:3 ratio but in the ’90s this divide between the TV and film industry needed to be addressed and HDTV’s 16:9 was hailed the solution It was the geometric mean between 4:3 (standard TV) and 2:35 (an average of movie ratios), so that an HDTV set could display both kinds of video without much “masking” by pesky, black letterbox bars. It was a massive success and soon DVDs, Blu-ray, even 4K all inherited this shape as advanced computers entered the mainstream consumer market.

Your Smartphone’s Best Friend (9:16)

If 4:3 was made for Cinema and 16:9 was created for Computing, then what’s vertical videos all about? The answer: our current media revolution: Smartphones. Advertising companies caught on fairly quickly the power that vertical video could provide for their ads. With social media being predominantly utilized vertically, by placing content in the same manner, statistics showed that 78% more real-estate is taken by the viewer, and numerous positive statistics showed an increase on user retention and brand engagement.

As good as those statistics are, the world is perhaps not ready for a full overhaul to vertical video. Most video-on-demand sites (including our own, here’s a link) embrace horizontal video above all. You may still be able to upload vertical video to those sites however it just looks like an amateur error with those large black bars that we were discussing earlier.

Some may argue, that it also limits the filmmaker’s ability to tell their narrative as intended if they consider vertical video a limitation. Vertical video is indeed new and innovative, but will it end up like the early Widescreen Cinema formats as just a mere fad or will it inspire the next innovation to aspect ratio with the continued development of Augmented reality and 360-degree video. Time will tell.

What Aspect Ratio Should I Use?

The time of content you decide to create in the 21st century may seem like a daunting task, however, we have you covered! Why not check out Adobe’s “Make Impactful Video for Social Media“, produced by Makematic.

Within this series, you’ll learn from industry experts the essentials needed to creating slick, effortless video in the best parameters for accessibility and sustainability in this ever-changing digital space.

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Published on: August 31, 2020

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