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YouTube Releases Vertical Videos, Loses Black Bars

In a shift towards vertical video, YouTube made an update to its desktop player, automatically adjusting the size of videos to fit a computer’s screen.

The company announced the update on its YouTube Help Forum saying: “Historically, for non wide-screen videos (not 16:9) like vertical and square videos, we would show black bars alongside the video, making the video really small. This update moves away from the need for black bars. We launched this update on mobile awhile back (both Android and iOS) so this change also aligns the desktop and mobile viewing experiences.”

As for the 16:9 standard HD aspect ratio, YouTube says the video size on the page has increased with no impact on video quality.

What YouTube Vertical Video Means for Brands

What this update does is show the shift from horizontal to vertical content. We’re matching videos to play on mobile devices; also recently shown by Instagram’s decision to only allow vertical video in IGTV. MOVR’s Mobile Overview Report found that users hold their phones vertically 94% of the time, further showing this trend. In fact, Snapchat reported their vertical video ads have a completion rate that is 9 times higher than horizontal video.

All this confirms the mobile-first world we live in now. We scroll with our phones vertical, we watch the first couple of seconds of a video, and we repeat until we find a worthwhile video. If the user is scrolling through their feed quickly, it’s a lot easier to grab a user’s attention with a vertical video that takes up so much of the screen. It’s harder to ignore your content because there is more screen time to grab them.

Creators are making vertical videos with that mindset, but those vertical videos still live on the desktop version of YouTube as well.

According to a 2016 study by Google, YouTube reaches more 18+ year-olds during prime-time TV hours than any cable TV network in an average week. Consumers are going to the site in droves, and that is not going to change in the near future.

Not Everyone's Smiling

However, YouTube’s “fix” for vertical videos on desktop isn’t making its users happy.

In the same thread as the announcement, some are asking for an option to switch back to the old version, while others are calling for a complete reversal on the update. One user said, “I don't like it, the non-wide-screen videos are very blurry this way, Not pleasant to watch anymore!”

Expected? Yes. All major design updates are going to have pushback as well as flaws because consumers hate change. The update will only get better with more time, use, and user input. But, this change shows the direction of the industry. It shows vertical video is top of mind for YouTube and should be for your brand as well.

Taking Advantage of Vertical Video

Ok, you have vertical video at the top of your mind, but how can you get creative with it? Stephen McMennamy used the vertical space beautifully with an Instagram post on his account, @combophoto.

Vertical feels native to what consumers are used to. You hold your phone like that all day, so you shouldn’t have to turn it for content. It’s seamless, native content.

Vertical video allows you to play around with heights (as seen above), especially if you’re shooting tall products or people. You have to think of how to fill the frame because it’s a lot of space up and down rather than on the sides. This creates more of a focal point without extra negative space on either side of the composition.

The content fills your entire screen with no effort from the user. What that does is makes it easier for the user to consume, and takes up more real estate, which is good for the client. And, on Instagram, horizontal video shows up so small in the feed compared to the 4x5 crop they allow.

Shooting vertical video can be tricky because it affects how our creative team goes about composing a shot. It makes it fun to figure out how to shoot because horizontal video has been the standard for so long, then square, and now there’s a push towards more and more vertical content.

The editing process has changed as well because the audience is scrolling through so quickly now. Our team shoots with both horizontal and vertical crops in mind at the same time. You need to make sure the key action is happening in both crops, but that there is also action to fill the frame in each crop, instead of dead space on the sides of one. All this forces creatives to think differently when producing captivating and authentic content.

As mobile continues to overtake desktop devices, look for more changes in your favorite platforms and content creation tools to help viewers, creators, and brands make the most of the vertical perspective.

Cannon Casey



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