Vertical Viewing: The need for vertical encoding

Vertical Viewing: The need for vertical encoding

Research shows that about 57% of user-generated videos today are shot vertically – because 95% of smartphone users hold their devices vertically. But what about encoding?

As a content creator, whether you are planning your next project for YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, or even Facebook, it goes without saying that your video will probably need to be vertical in some shape or form. Research has found that about 57% of user-generated videos today are shot vertically – only natural, given that almost 95% of smartphone users use their phones as such. Revenue from mobile advertisements too have concurrently been rising much quicker than traditional ad revenue and is only expected to continue to burgeon over the next decade.

This form of videography is sort of counterintuitive, however.

Apart from the world’s first moving images of Falling Cat by French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey in 1894 being shot in vertical frames, for decades ensuing, we have been conditioned horizontally: think of your TV sets or PC monitors – all landscape. Now that we’ve shifted to an era of vertical again, it goes without saying that our videos too will have to change (back) accordingly.

Image: Falling Cat by Étienne-Jules Marey; Source: Better Photography

A 90% higher completion rate for vertical video

Roots to much of the vertical content we consume today go back to the release of Snapchat in 2011 – where an innovative concept of short, 10-second videos or photos sent to your friends, ready to be wiped off the face of the earth within seconds, grew fast from a tepid vapour to a full-blown hurricane, especially among millennials. While the photo itself may have been wiped, the idea was not.

In fact, a 2018 study from mobile ad platform MediaBrix even found that vertical videos have about a 90% higher completion rate from audiences compared to horizontal ones – and that only about 30% turn their phone sideways to watch about 14% of a horizontal ad.

Another reason why vertical video works is that it provides a substantially greater immersive experience for the viewer. With mobile devices, users can hold their phones in a vertical position, allowing them to view content in a manner that is more natural and engaging. Consequently, this has led to the development of newer storytelling techniques and formats optimised for vertical viewing. For example, many of the vertical videos of today have been designed to be viewed without sound, making them perfect for social media platforms where users often watch videos on mute.


The major player in the vertical video market today is, of course, TikTok. Since its inception in late-2016, it has carved out a unique position as the behemoth in video-sharing apps, amassing over a billion active users per month. In order to stay competitive, TikTok has made a number of changes to its video specifications over the years, the most recent update from 2022 being an increase to videos almost 10 minutes long – a move though seemingly capricious, coming from careful study of viewing behaviour and the increase in users’ affinity for medium-form video content.

Interestingly, TikTok’s maximum video size permissibility varies considerably across platforms like iOS, Android and desktop as do file formats for its news feed content and advertisements – they even have their own ‘Intelligent Optimisation’ tool to allow users to alter videos accordingly. It is worth noting however, that this isn’t, in any way, exceptional anymore.

And it isn’t just social media either. With sport content owners such as the NBA too discussing vertical video encoding for consumption on their mobile and app formats, the scope isn’t limited to B2B – it already has, and will continue to extend to D2C and beyond over the coming years.

With multi-platform formatting and distribution set to become the norm, companies need to make significant strides in considering business and user needs to this end. This would include incorporating videos of varying aspect ratios, such as using 9:16 on TikTok potentially with pan-and-cut features from 16:9 video, compression formatting using appropriate resolution, audio/video codecs, packaging, manifest and metadata or using videography tools such as reframing or cropping.

The objective is, and will continue to be, to reach newer and younger audiences by staying ahead of the curve with the latest content formats (such as vertical video) and expanding distribution to newer platforms and formats, such as social media and D2C, among others.

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