It may have started with Apple’s FaceTime, or perhaps it was Google Hangouts. Sometime between the introduction of the video-enabled smartphone and the arrival of Snapchat, the world shifted from a century-long tradition of horizontal moving pictures (first the movie screen, then television) to today’s gold rush into vertical video.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t hung my television sideways in the living room (yet), but I do shoot and consume a great deal of vertical video on my iPhone.

And The Washington Post, along with countless other publishers, is moving headlong into vertical video as a new format and product.

Why?

First, we traditionalists lost the war a long time ago, and that’s OK. As someone who could have been quoted in 2005 as believing mainstream channels and publishers would never accept the low-quality productions on YouTube, mea culpa.

Turning your phone sideways to shoot video is an extra step. When news is breaking or that perfect moment arrives, most people would rather capture it vertically than miss it horizontally. And consuming that video horizontally takes two hands; suddenly you’ve lost your ability to carry that cup of coffee.

FaceTime and Google Hangouts started this trend. Both emphasize the personal interaction between two people in portrait mode. It’s a more intimate experience, just you and a friend, family member, or loved one talking. Suddenly, rotating the phone 90 degrees feels like you’re putting on a show. It’s sterile. It’s television.

Vertical video has its advantages. The format can give stories a more intimate feel, and the shooter never misses a moment by repositioning their device.
Vertical video has its advantages. The format can give stories a more intimate feel, and the shooter never misses a moment by repositioning their device.

Varying surveys show that 2016 will be the year that more than half of all video will be consumed on a mobile device. Publishers need to start looking at those devices as the primary screen, not something you adapt other videos to fit.

At The Post, we’ve taken an experimental approach to vertical video. We’re focused on providing engaging content to build audience and revenue opportunities. Most of the video we produce is horizontal, but the vertical videos are incredibly powerful.

We also produce specifically for vertical platforms, rather than cropping horizontal video to make it fit. One of the projects I’m most proud of launched earlier this year and is focused on the European refugee crisis. We’re also producing informative animated videos in politics.

These frames from a video animation explaining super PACs demonstrate how some information is displayed more effectively in a vertical format.
These frames from a video animation explaining super PACs demonstrate how some information is displayed more effectively in a vertical format.

Vertical video is a trend that’s here to stay, but before jumping headlong into vertical, ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the audience I’m trying to reach?

  • Where are they when watching the videos?

  • Is the story I’m trying to tell authentically vertical? Or is it a horizontal video that will lose its impact/authenticity when cropped?

  • Are you asking the viewer to switch back and forth between vertical and horizontal videos? What’s the next video experience in the playlist?

One of the biggest barriers to wider adoption of vertical video is the ad experience. Few advertisers are creating vertical pre-roll today, so you still have the potential to deliver a vertical video with a horizontal ad. That’s not a great user experience.

But at The Post, we have a collaborative relationship with our ad technology team, and now they’re creating vertical pre-roll specifically for advertisers. Solving this challenge for advertisers will be a significant factor in speeding adoption.

As for when to turn your television sideways, I’m not counting on that day to come. Then again, I’ve been wrong before.