by David Neal & Miriam Ross
Last update: December 13, 2016
This is our fourth year of following the trends in vertically framed moving imagery. The first three can be found here (March 2014), here (February 2015), and here (February 2016). The publication date for this work is estimated to be March 1, 2017. In the interim, this will contain notes for the final paper.
In mid-July, Vevo released a total reimplementation of their mobile apps that represents a revolutionary approach to vertical moving image framing. This was reported extensively in the press, the best article being this one by Joan E. Solsman on Cnet. In simple terms, they take a video (in particular a Music Video) and center-crop it to create a vertically framed full screen version. This seems trivial, and indeed technically, using contemporary codecs, it is. However, what they can do is stream a full 16x9 or other widescreen video and produce a reasonablly cropped version in a vertical frame. The user can then choose whether to watch the landscape video, by turning their device, or in portrait the "letterboxed" version, or the full-screen center cropped version. They call this their "portrait player."
Part of the reason that a center crop works is due to the subject matter, music videos. These videos have several attributes that make this more acceptable than it would be for a movie or TV episode. First, the audio is arguably as important as the imagery, or even more so. Second, especially in the case of solo artists, the singer is very often positioned in the center of the horizontal frame. Third, the surrounding imagery is less important than the central figure (line dancers, empty stage, gradiant background, etc.) Fourth, the closups of the artist created by this framing are often appealing in and of themselves.
While movies and shows are often seen only once, music videos are consumed over and over. Thus, seeing everything every time is not as important, indeed a different perspective of the video can be refreshing. (You might even "see more," i.e. notice something you had missed, by seeing less.) Finally, this technique adds a touch of interactivity to the video, you can essentially "zoom-in" on the center of the video for a closeup.
Music video is tremendously popular. Look at the most popular YouTube videos, they are mainly music videos. (Alex Fitzpatrick writes in Time Magazine: "All but two of YouTube’s 40 most popular clips are music videos.") This is a new approach that has tremendous potential. For example, the center-crop is not always optimal. Sometimes parts of the face are cropped while the other side of the screen is inconsequential. The production team at Snapchat, for example, has produced a number of vertical music videos by doing hand editing of horizontally framed video. These too are not optimal, but are often framed better than a pure center crop. Some of this editing could probably be automated using image processing to determine the "best" crop for a particular scene. Another possibility is to allow the viewer to choose the crop in real time e.g. by positioning the center with their finger, or pinching as well to control zoom. (even more interactivity!)
Here are some music videos that show the potential and limitations of the new Vevo app:
This video, which was featured in the Vevo announcement as well as Joan E. Solsman's article and others, is an almost perfect exemplar for this technique. A solo artist on a variably lit "gradient" background, cropping loses very little imagery much of the time.
I am tempted to say that this video is better in center-cropped vertical than widescreen! The aerial acrobatics are taller than wide and the single artist on stage is centered throughout. A great performance that works really well in vertical framing.
This video was produced in widescreen "anamorphic" format (~2.39/1) matching current cimematic practice. It is also cinemagraphic in that the artist is not in a concert type setting, but "set" in various scenery. This could be a worst case example because of the wide format, however it doesn't seem terrible to me. Note that this video is also the basis for The Taylor Swift Experience, a 360 degree, find the hidden objects video game app, sponsored by American Express.
Directed by Inez & Vinoodh, this video is formatted 1/1, i.e. square. It could be shown square in either portrait or landscape, however in Vevo apps the full-screen portrait is still center-cropped.
This concert-like video, is mostly "stage set" rather than having more elaborate mis-en-scene as in Blank Space or Hello.
Older videos, like this one which was probably produced in the late 1960s, will usually be recorded in the so-called "Academy ratio" of 4:3. Such a video will not have as much of the sides cropped as a HD (16:9 aspect ratio) video. I chose this one to see how a duet would show cropped in vertical. Near the end there is a time where the video just shows the space between the two singers on the stage, but for the most part one or the other or both singers are visible on screen.
This extremely popular video from the 1990s, features the ensemble group the Spice Girls in their first video. Once again in 4:3 aspect ratio, some amount of the antics are cropped out in the vertical. Then again, there is so much going on in this video that you would have to watch it numerous times to catch it all.
This video is the widest one I have found on Vevo. I calculate the aspect ratio to be 2.53 to 1. A live performance at a fairly large venue, the staging includes numerous large (vertical!) screens and mirror effects. If you are at the venue in the back of the audience, those screens really help. How much they add to the video is debatable.
Of course, after I wrote the above this video was released which is even wider. I calculate the aspect ratio to be 2.66 to 1. This video is poorly framed even in the original widescreen. For example, the dancers legs are cut off much of the time! The vertical crop is close to square. A center crop of a poorly framed image is not likely going to make it better.
We wish the folks at Vevo the best of luck with this exciting new development.
Although we have reported previously on announced live-action feature length vertical films, it is unclear that any have made it to "distribution." However, it appears that a recent product Sickhouse will be distributed via Vimeo in June. As first reported by Saba Hamedy of Mashable, Sickhouse was filmed using the Snapchat app camera. It was uploaded to Snapchat and self reported to have "millions of views." There is a trailer on Vimeo. It was written and directed by Hannah Macpherson and is being distributed by Indigenous Media.
Although we have noted that vertical framing has been used in advertising, especially in public venues that have vertically mounted screens, this seems to be the year that advertising agencies and marketers are discovering vertical video in a big way. Prompted primarily by the widespread use of mobile devices that are held vertically most of the time, advertisers have found that it is difficult to get people to turn their screen to view ads. Hence, they are starting to produce more ads in a vertical orientation. This is being helped by platforms such as Facebook that, whether or not in response to the growing popularity of the vertically native mobile-only Snapchat app, are modifying their mobile apps to be more frendly to mobile, vertical viewing.
A vertical video hit the holy grail of advertising, the US Superbowl, this year. This piece, produced in an unusual 7.7 by 9 aspect ratio by the Iris Worldwide Ad Agency in New York, not only screened, but won the Super Clio prize for best ad. Reviews in Adweek, Wired, etc. mostly praised it. At 20M+ views in real time during the TV showing and with millions more on YouTube, it is arguably the most widely seen vertical video to date.
In late March, Garett Sloane reported in Digiday that the Washington Post has begun to develop vertical video ads for some of it's client advertisers. He had previously reported that Hearst publications were supporting vertical ads.
In this series of videos that Pixiu Films produced for Freitag, two horizontal videos are paired in a vertical splitscreen. The top video is a normal Television type ad (visually the same in all cases.) The bottom videos each show a different sound track being created for the ad. Here are the sound artists involved: F-Crew (YouTube), Herr Hermes (YouTube), Peter Bräker (Vimeo), Whistler & Hustler (Vimeo), and Michael Winslow (Vimeo). This is a clever use of the splitscreen technique that we complained of last year as being a crutch. Although these videos do not have significant online viewing on either YouTube or Vimeo, they are primarily being shown in retail outlets, for which we have no data.
Video distribution platform Virool announced a mobile vertical video ad unit called Video Reveal. The company claims it is the first vertical mobile video ad available via programmatic. Ad tech firm Rubicon Project is a partner in the venture, providing ad units for advertisers and publishers, including all video advertising on desktop and mobile web. Ginny Marvin of Marketing Land reported here.
At the Cannes Lions conference in late June, the advertising firm Unruly (part of NewsCorp) announced their support for vertical video ads. It was reported here and elsewhere.
In July, a group called "Smart-AdServer" announced an initiative called "Go-To Vertical Video," that purports to re-purpose horizontal video for advertisers. This seems to be a particularly wrong-headed idea!
In early August, as reported here by Ken Yeung, Flipboard announced support for programatic vertical video ads.
While a lot of agencies are touting their vertical video expertise, most of their websites are still desktop-centric and the "vertical" videos are mostly presented in a traditional horizontal frame (often showing a smartphone playing the video.) Madbox is exceptional here in that their website plays well on mobile and the videos are true vertical ones. See a sample of their ads here.
Episode 3 of the Adweek Podcast, featuring:
A group in NYC screened several short vertical films on February 7, 2016. Here is a collage of images from the screening. If/when they post online we will have pointers here.
The group started posting their videos later in February. The videos have appeared in waves, suggesting more than the initial screening. You can see the works on Vimeo.
In early October the group announced a second screening call for videos. This screening took place on Dec. 3. The principals also produced a short vertical film sponsored by Nike Air Jordans called "#AJXXXI Chicago Defy City Film" that can be viewed on YouTube here.
The screening was held on May 21 as described here. The winner of the This Way Up prize was Impact directed by Jean-Charles Granjon (see last year's writeup.)
The Tribeca Film Festival announced a competition for stories produced using the Snapchat app. The announcement required that the stories be filmed in vertical orientation, live without editing (except perhaps Snapchat filters) using the Snapchat app. This contest is being sponsored by Snapchat in conjunction with TFF.
The ten finalists were announced at a live event at the Samsung 837 Venue on April 17. The event was streamed to Periscope. According to Eventbrite, this event was sold out but free. No idea how many people attended, but maybe a few hundred. This announcement was a bit confused. The Ten finalists were published by the Tribeca Film Festival on it's site. The three winners were pre-announced and screened at the event, they are: "The Secret Stash" created by Mariann Isola, "Pencils" created by Kat Vlasova, and "Past Perfect" created by Esha Gupta. We could not find any of these pieces on YouTube or Vimeo.
The first group of four videos were posted to Snapchat Discover on April 23.
In conjunction with the MIP-TV - The global TV & digital content market on 4-7 April 2016 at the Palais des Festivals, Cannes, France, MIP-TV sponsored a vertical video contest. Based on the web site, there appear to have been 20 entries, however in the MIP-TV wrapup they claim that there were 60 submissions. The two winners were Slow Moscow by Julien Aubert and Impact by Jean-Charles Granjon (see last year's paper for discussion of this piece.) The MIPblog has an interview with the winners.
Nespresso sponsored a Vertical Video contest with €18,000 in prize money, and the three winning videos being screened in a special venue during the Cannes Film Festival. Here is the announcement.
Although this contest is primarily an attempt to acquire advertising "on the cheap" (the winners must let Nespresso use and modify their film however they like), the exploritory work of and interviews of the three judges: Gaelle Denis (interview, video), Erik Schmitt (interview, video), and Eva Weber (interview, video) are interesting. Unfortunately, after the contest, Nespresso made the jury members films private and they cannot be seen anymore. The interviews are still available.
The 20 finalists were posted here on April 25. According to the YouTube listing for some of the finalists, 470 videos were submitted from 41 contries.
Unfortunately, after the contest, Nespresso made the non-winning films private and they cannot be seen anymore.
Here is the email from Userfarm announcing the winners:
Hi there We are really excited to announce the 3 vertical short films selected from the 380 received in the Nespresso Talents 2016 contest! Here you can find the 3 videos that the Jury chose as most representative of the mission of the project for content and quality. Well done to:
Scars by Franzo
Decollo Verticale by Aitalusk
An ordinary Life by Lydia_Sh
Thanks again to all the participants! This was a project like never before: one that really redefined the image of crowdsourcing. All the best, Userfarm Team
Here is a report in The Skinny by Jamie Dunn.
Screened 8-11 September in Bad Gastein, Germany, this festival did not appear to have a long lead time. We noticed in in August. Their website shows seven videos as of this writing. There is also a Facebook page that appears to have been posting since Sept. 2015. The Facebook page shows screened films that were not on the website, including "Girl" by Megan K Fox, a standout this year. The name of this festival seems a bit disingenuous.
Screened on November 3 in Prague, this festival included The Numberlys, Impact, Eddie's Adventure, a number of music videos, and several pieces from the Nespresso contest. There were few new items. It was streamed on Facebook Live and may still be available here. Additionally, here are "posters" of the 22 films screened.
Similar in subject and treatment to the 2015 BBC piece we discussed last year shot with Snapchat, this piece by Tom Hannen continues the trend also started last year of making a vertical video look like a session using a phone. Unlike the earlier BBC piece, this video is a combination of screenshots and other techniques rather than a bunch of Snapchat clips. This is the article describing the video in journalism.co.uk by Caroline Scott.
Tom Hannen, the producer/director of this piece further explains his methods in this blog post.
On September 15 at the Westminster Media Forum, the BBC announced a revamped news app that will highlight 10 vertical videos daily. The announcement was posted to YouTube by journalism.co.uk.
There were more articles about this rollout during the fall. Here is the BBC's November announcement. It seems that this is a kind of "journalism lite" akin to the treatments on Snapchat Discover. Basically, they choose 10 stories and give them a short vertical video treatment, with captions. The video is often cropped TV video "This video has been reformatted to fit your screen." In North America, the app was rolled out in early December on Android devices.
In September, Wall Street Journal's tech reporter Joanna Stern turned from the anti-vertical to pro side with this article, and an associated vertically formatted series entitled "You Got This." Unfortunately, the WSJ implements a paywall that you can sometimes see through, sometimes not, so we apologize if this is not visible.
In late October, the NY Times published: "‘I Dream in Fruit’: What Hunger Looks Like in Syria," an article including six short vertical videos. This article was available both on the paper's website and it's mobile apps. It was produced by Yara Bishara and Megan Specia.
This video of the winner of a Russian Wind Games competition got 3/4M views.
Posted in April, Video by MeltMirror this music video uses 3D CGI animation in an abstract way. A Vimeo "Staff Pick," it has 31K views on Vimeo.
Lyrical School, a Japanese pop group created this music video, posted in April, that mimics the look of an iPhone app. 1.1M views on Vimeo.
An oddball aspect ratio, wrapped in a white container, this video was uploaded to YouTube on May 30.
Purported to be "made and launched on Snapchat," this video was released on June 11, published on June 13 on YouTube. I can believe that the raw footage was all produced on the Snapchat app, however, the final product must have been edited and the soundtrack added on professional video software, not the Snapchat app. This is a little like saying that Hollywood director X created movie Y with camera Z.
Uploaded August 1st, this music video garnered over a quarter million views on YouTube in the first week. According to the description, it was made from a bunch of Instagram clips. Credits include: CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Kenjiro Harigai (THINKR / QA) PRODUCER: Hiroki Sugiyama (THINKR / HA8CA) / Raita Nakamura (THINKR / HA8CA) MUSIC VIDEO Director: Satoru Ohno (THINKR / HA8CA).
This music video from the album "Above Water" by Gibbz is an execellent use of vertical framing targeted at a mobile device. Unlike several that try to mimic a smartphone app, this uses the vertical scrolling that we all do as its primary visual effect. Very nice. Directed by: Brendan Leahy DP: Andres Reynoso from Studio Skylight http://www.facebook.com/astudioskylight The Band is - Sax: James Casey, Guitar: Eric "Doc" Mendelson, Bass: Zach Abramson, Drums: Max Almario. Also available on Vimeo.
The Vervid app was released last year to some fanfare. (See last year's wrapup for discussion.) It aspired to be "the YouTube of vertical video." Unfortunately for them, YouTube was already (and still is) "the YouTube of vertical video." By May of 2016 the Vervid server had stopped accepting uploads and in late June stopped serving videos. The app is still available on the iTunes app store, however it no longer does anything. In the event that this changes, we will let you know.
Just after the new year, the Slinger app was added to the iOS store. This app lets you archive vertical videos, similar to last year's Vervid app (see above). The app is targeted to Snapchat users, whose videos disappear from that app after 24 hours. TechCrunch's Josh Constine described the app here. Unfornately Slinger was shut down before the year ended.
Released in late February for iOS (fairly recent devices only), imDown is another vertical video archive/discovery platform/app.
Reported in November by Michael Hemsworth on Trendhunter, Snappd is another archiving platform for vertical video supposedly in beta testing at the time of this writing.
Snapchat continues to dominate the conversation about vertical video. In this US Presidential Election year a major focus is on the presidential campaigns. This NY Times article discuses Snapchat's political news effort. Although most of this work is vertically framed, in keeping with Snapchat's 24 hour disappearance policy, it does not seem to be publically archived anywhere.
This six-episode mini-series, directed by Sofia Vergara's son, Manolo Gonzalez Vergara seems to have screened on the Fusion Discover channel on Snapchat last December according to this article in the LA Times by Parish Dave. It is incredibly easy to miss things on Snapchat and we missed this last year, however, the Fusion Facebook page posted at least one episode here.
Created by MysteryGuitarMan (Joe Penna) is this delightful stop-action animation (300K views as of April 6).
As we pointed out last year, Snapchat's Live Stories are potentially one of their strongest points.
This video, created as a Snapchat live story about the University of Wisconsin, turned into a real life love story, viewed by 2M people on youtube after the original 24 hour Snapchat screening. Mashable reported the details.
Coming on the heels of the UW story is another campus love story. This is starting to look formulaic.
In July Snapchat rolled out a new feature that they call "Memories." It allow users to do two major new things. First, you can archive your snaps on their server for later posting, and second you can upload pictures and video from your "camera roll," that is, things that were not produced by the camera inside the Snapchat app itself. The uploaded video seems to be highly compressed and reduced in resolution (to around 140P) and in addition it is placed in a white frame that consumes 40% of the screen! However this is a major change to Snapchat.
In August, the major entertainment unit NBC Universal reportedly signed a multi-year deal with Snapchat to produce content for the App. It was reported by Steven Perlberg of the Wall Street Journal here.
The first episodes of this deal were screened in September and October shortly before the premiere episodes of the Voice. Each episode was auditions where one of the program's stars chose a contestant from three finalists. The next episode was a "behind the scene" look at Saturday Night Live, which was more Snapchat-like, consisting of short "selfies" by the stars of that show. The production values of all of this appeared to be somewhat less than their TV counterparts, perhaps an attempt at a bit of informailiy. They seem to be more advertising for the shows than shows in their own right.
Debuting in November, the best of this lot seems to be "Fallon," an offshoot of the Tonight Show. Also shot "behind the scenes" in a non-descript room, the first episode featured Fallon and Justin Timberlake improvising songs based on viewer suggestions. It is described by Andrew Wallenstein of Variety here.
In late October, the PBS series POV produced two documentaries for Snapchat Discover via the NowThis channel. These used the Discover paradyme of several video clips that are navigated individually via the Snapchat app's Discover section. The documentaries were: "We'll Still Be Here" about domino players in Brooklyn NY, produced by Lizzie Jacobs and “The Way It Should Be”, a story of love and friendship as lived and told by queer women of color, by Terence Nance and Chanelle Aponte Pearson. The productions are described on the POV blog on pbs.org.
Snapchat announced their sunglasses mounted camera in September as reported in the Wall Street Journal and began selling them in November via a Kiosk that was relocated daily. The camera is fitted with a fisheye lens that creates a circular image. In the Snapchat app, a full-screen rectangular crop of this image can be viewed in any orientation (vertical, horizontal or anything inbetween) by rotating the device. Here is a description from Mashable.
In August, Instagram announced "Stories" an admitted rip-off of Snapchat Stories. Instagram's version features full screen mobile vertical video, for both natively captured and uploaded video. The quality of uploaded video is quite good. However, like Snapchat stories, the final product is comprised of multiple clips (of 15 seconds or less.) The transition between clips is noticible on playback, as it is on Snapchat. Perhaps better codecs or software will eliminate these "hiccups" in the future. In addition, Instagram seems to crop a 9x16 video somewhat top and/or bottom, and further defaces the image with various graffitti (user name, various iconography.)
Facebook announced an "enhancement" to it's vertical video support in late August, as first reported by Tim Peterson on Marketingland. Rather than display a vertical video in a square box in the "news feed" on it's mobile apps, either cropped or pillorboxed, it will display them in a 2x3 box (0.6667 aspect ratio.) Since the vast majority of vertical video is packaged in a 9x16 (0.5625) aspect ratio, they will continue to be either cropped or pillorboxed. Way to go Facebook!
Appropros to nothing, here is a little piece of vertically framed eye candy consisting of artificially edited symmetric architectures by David Racine called Barely Symmetrical.
Last year we pointed to a video that was professionally produced in vertical format in an attempt at faux authenticity. That video had a respectable but not huge audience, somewhat less than 1 million.
In July of this year, this video garnered over 8 million views in the first week and a torrent of rage over the vertical formatting which missed the actual climactic moment. Turns out that the reason is that the window was previously broken and the video staged. Here is David Tracy's report of the hoax. And here is the local TV station reporting on the hoax (with a perfunctory diss of vertical video at the end.)
In previous years we have seen Journalism schools in particular with vertical video as part of their coursework. This year is the first time that there has been evidence of a film school adding a vertical component. This video was posted on YouTube in December by Zac Holmes, a student at Ravensbourne, as being the project of his school group. The course leader was Dr. Freddie Gaffney.
There continues to be lots of "stop vertical video" rhetoric.
Produced by Timeline Video in the form of a pharmaceutical infomercial, Dr. Horice Zontal promotes Landscapia as the cure for Vertical Video Syndrome.
A rude, profanity-filled, computer-synthisized voice tells you to eschew vertical video, or else, in this video uploaded in July.