Phones Are Changing How People Shoot and Watch Video

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Quick, do an experiment: Whip out your phone and take a short video. Trees outside your window, the other people in line with you, whatever.

Now here’s a question: How did you shoot it? Did you hold the phone sideways, to get a horizontal, or landscape, shot? Or did you hold it vertically? Odds are you held it upright, which means you’re helping to accelerate one of the most underappreciated shifts in the mediascape.

Before 1930, moving picture aspect ratios were all over the place. But mass distribution requires standardization, so influential filmmakers met in Hollywood that year to talk. They settled on the horizontal shot.

Things pretty much stayed that way for decades—until the 2010s, when the mobile phone began to unravel this consensus. The phone is where we shoot our video and, increasingly, view it. In other words, it’s the studio and the movie theater. Yet studies show we hold our phones vertically 94 percent of the time. No wonder: Holding them sideways violates smartphone ergonomics. It feels weird.

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Snapchat has done more than anything else to tilt culture upright. Its users intuited this early and create 3 billion snaps per day, nearly all vertical. Indeed, the platform now requires its big-media partners—from National Geographic to CNN to WIRED—to provide such video for its Discover section. Nor is Snapchat alone; broadcasters worldwide are trying out vertical, because phones are where their audiences, especially in coveted younger demographics, are growing the fastest.

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