We’re taught that vertical video is amateurish, unnatural, and a crime against humanity. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the format. It plays a bigger role in life than you’d imagine, and it feels so natural we hardly ever think of it.
Vertical Video Is Natural
Vertical is natural. When you pull a phone out of your pocket, it’s vertical. When you hold a phone with one hand, it’s vertical. And when you scroll through websites, SMS conversations, or even Instagram, you do it vertically.
So it’s only natural for people to watch and shoot video in vertical orientation. Filming horizontal requires the extra step of rotating your phone. And the reward for taking that extra step is a horizontal video that doesn’t fit your phone’s native, vertical orientation.
I know, “rotating my phone is a hassle” sounds kind of stupid, but that’s just how it is. Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are popular because they’re vertically-locked—you don’t have to turn your phone every time you use the app. It’s a small inconvenience, but it makes the difference. Can you imagine spinning your phone just to watch Instagram stories?
I wish I could end things here, but the “natural” bit isn’t enough. Most horizontal-warriors will argue that, because TVs and computer monitors are horizontal, all phone videos should be horizontal, too. But this argument overlooks the fact that, in today’s world, we spend more time staring at our phone than at our TV.
Vertical Video Is Already King
According to eMarketer, 75% of the world’s video consumption happens on cellphones. It’s an insane (and disappointing) statistic, but it makes a lot of sense. We carry our phones everywhere and spend untold hours watching Instagram stories, TikToks, live feeds, and Snapchat messages every day.
This statistic is a sign of vertical video’s insane ubiquity. We create and view billions of bite-sized Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok videos every day—all vertical. Vertical video is a standard format for social interaction, memes, news, and entertainment. Just think, you’ve survived a few days watching only vertical video, and most kids are being raised on the stuff. (Just to be clear, even traditional platforms like YouTube and Netflix are also exploring vertical video.)
You might not have noticed the bulging popularity of vertical video, but you can’t ignore it now. It’s a major part of our lives, and it’s the natural format for any video that’s watched or recorded on a smartphone. A vertical video might not be in the natural orientation for TVs and computers, but that doesn’t really matter, as most viewers will end up watching it on a phone anyway.
Vertical Is More Profitable Than Horizontal
Everybody’s hopping on the vertical video gravy train. Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are obvious pioneers—their billion-dollar apps are successful because of vertical video, and their foray into “Live TV” features (like video podcasts and news) shows that vertical video might be profitable in just about any industry.
One thing’s for sure—it’s profitable for advertisers. According to Laundry Service (an advertising company), vertical Facebook ads are three times more effective than basic Facebook ads. Vertical videos are magnets for user engagement, which is why brands like National Geographic, NASA, and Netflix, have totally committed their social media presence to vertical images and videos.
Even the music industry is pivoting toward the vertical format. Artists like Billie Eilish, Halsey, and Sam Smith are releasing popular “vertical” versions of their music videos for fans to enjoy on their phones. And just to be clear, these aren’t cropped versions of widescreen music videos. They’re new pieces of content that play toward the strengths of a vertical, mobile format.
(Side note: We often think of non-standard video orientations as an artistic choice. Kill Bill, The Lighthouse, and Kendrick’s King Kunta are lauded for their use of non-standard orientations—yet vertical video is considered amateurish or inartistic. Why?)
Smartphones Can Rotate, Maybe TVs Should, Too
Maybe I’ve poisoned my brain watching Vine compilations, but I don’t really mind how vertical video looks on a wide display. In fact, I think it’s kind of charming.
That said, I have to admit that vertical video could look better on TVs and computers. Wide displays aren’t made to accommodate tall content, and even the best-shot, highest quality vertical video looks squished and damaged on a widescreen.
How can we fix this problem? Well, we could crop and stretch vertical video to a wider format. Or we could go the sensible route and invest in Samsung’s auto-rotating TVs, which bridge the gap between wide and vertical aspect ratios—perfect for binging TikToks with your friends.
At the very least, we should push for a future where easy-to-rotate mounts and stands are commonplace. Rotatable mounts are already the norm—we just need mounts that have built-in motors or smooth pivoting mechanisms (the new Mac Pro stand comes to mind).
There may be an alternative universe where wide video reigns supreme. But in that universe, wide video is king because people naturally hold their phones sideways. Yuck.
Vertical video isn’t going anywhere, so I’m happy to accept it for what it is. I’m thankful my phone is rotatable, and I hope that TVs and computers take on that same rotate-ability in the near future. Otherwise, I’ll spend the rest of my life fighting on behalf of vertical video.