How the smartphone affects video communication 


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2019)

Ever more users are viewing video contents on their smartphones – and in portrait format. This development is slowly but surely heralding in a trend reversal for the moving picture industry. Meanwhile, even major platforms such as YouTube are responding.

Although our perception is oriented around horizontal visual sensory impressions – after all, our eyes are positioned next to, and not above, each other – there has been a trend towards vertical storytelling over the past few years. The reason for this is changing media utilisation behaviour, which is, as is so often the case, particularly noticeable among young target groups. Initially, many switched from TV to online content. However, everything has since begun shifting in the direction of mobile utilisation. To this end, smartphone-only video use in 2018 was already in excess of 50 per cent. In so doing, users are already consuming up to 40 minutes of mobile video content a day, according to a current statistical survey – a trend that is predicted to grow.

And mobile in most cases also automatically means portrait format. From a purely pragmatic perspective, this format is ergonomically more comfortable for users, as it means they have one hand free. Furthermore, users would constantly have to turn their mobile phone by 90 degrees and back again when switching from text to video content. So, many users simply keep their devices in the vertical position. A trend towards vertically-oriented video apps and formats has been increasingly noticeable over the last few years – above all Snapchat and, later, also TikTok and Instagram’s IGTV. This development has also been accompanied by a change in visual language. Whether we are actually dealing with “Generation Self-Importance” here is probably a matter of personal opinion. In fact, however, vertical formats such as social media stories actually place a greater focus on the individual than horizontal formats do. The latter are more suitable for displaying landscapes or scenarios with several protagonists. Vertical videos can zoom in on individuals far more closely.

But what does this mean for modern content creation and brand communication? TV broadcasters, for example, still frequently extract vertical moving pictures from existing, horizontal material, although some are experimenting with “vertical-first” content specifically produced for the broadcasters” apps and Instagram accounts. A frequent drawback when switching format if not planned from the outset: the resulting ugly “black bars” above and below the video that occupy the majority of the screen. And even leading moving-picture platforms such as YouTube could no longer ignore the discrepancy between user behaviour and technological status quo. In the summer of 2018, the (horizontal) video player technology market leader announced that it would now also supports 9:16 formats. This also includes vertical video ads on the platform, because brands too must start focusing on vertical ads and branded stories. Here, some have taken the topic more to heart than others. To this end, Nespresso has been hosting its video clip competition “Nespresso Talents” for many years now – using vertical orientation, very much against the dictate of the old screen format. The future is all about the vertical.

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Claudia is a Berlin-based Media Economist consulting companies in the field of Digital Business Models & Organizational Culture for more than ten years. At Ströer Digital Media she is responsible for Cross Channel Strategy. Prior to that, she worked for the New Business Division of WIRED Magazine, in consulting with a focus on Media & ICT, at UFA LAB (a Digital Innovation Unit of RTL Group), and at WDR (German Public Television). She holds a PhD in Innovation Management & Entrepreneurship from Technical University of Berlin and teaches Digital Transformation at HKMW Berlin.

Picture credit © Fabio Pagani/EyeEm/Getty Images

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