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How long until your living room TV is vertical?

The rise of social media and the proliferation of the iPhone are directly correlated with the normalization of the vertical video. Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

It’s 2013 and you have a video project due for school. Acting quickly after waiting until the night before, you run out and shoot all the video that morning and upload it on the family desktop.

Once you upload it, those infamous black bars make an appearance, hugging your video’s sides to fit the horizontal screen. You made a drastic mistake: You forgot to turn your phone sideways and record horizontally, and now your grade will suffer.

Today, vertical video is popping up everywhere. Many mainstream companies like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are embracing the 9:16 dimensions. It may even be already in your house. Take a look at the new Amazon Alexa or even the video display on your refrigerator door and you’ll see it.

THE NORMALIZATION OF VERTICAL VIDEO

But you may ask, “Who can we blame for the normalization of vertical video?”

App developer and technology connoisseur Cody Benson, Sr. the Director of Digital Strategy at Georgia State, thinks it’s your iPhone.

“There was a great market for [horizontal TVs] until [the iPhone] got awesome,” Benson said. “The iPhone changed everything.”

Benson said that over time, the normalization and commonplace nature of the iPhone made shooting and consuming video accessible to everyone—no TV required.

The iPhone was designed to be turned sideways for both shooting and consuming media, mimicking the familiarity of the horizontal TV. Even though turning the screen sideways provided a larger screen, people weren’t taking that extra step and instead began growing accustomed to watching video that took up the top half of the screen.

“Because we’re human, we’re lazy. Flipping our phones is an action that we have to take. It’s more comfortable and we can go faster if we can just hold it [vertical],” Benson said.

Today, people are watching TV less and instead rely on their iPhones for media. The rise of apps like Snapchat have made this generation accustomed to watching vertical video. And companies had to keep up to stay relevant.

Instagram began on the iPhone and quickly jumped into the vertical video movement with the introduction of IGTV, a media platform specifically for vertical video, shot by iPhone.

Facebook displays vertical video that fits to your screen automatically. YouTube just announced that vertical ads are coming to the app. Spotify introduced vertical music videos that can only be viewed on the app. And now, most porn websites offer a category of vertical porn with the specific intention of being viewed on a smartphone.

SAVING SPACE AND MONEY

Think of the vertical screens you have come in contact with naturally. You see them used for advertisements, on kiosks, mall directories, airplane delays and menu boards. Only requiring a glance, vertical video is often used for quick information.

While you can already find vertical screens at Georgia State—here’s one adjacent to the transportation services office—the university uses them for more practical reasons than the leisurely nature of IGTV.

Jacolby Chatman from auxiliary and support services at Georgia State said that it’s to display the most information using only one screen.

“To maximize the space, we were able to fit three playlists on there. But for the horizontale ones, nobody would be able to see the text. It would be too small,” Chatman said.

While some of the same ads run on most screens, each department has the choice of displaying what they want on each screen. Information is displayed on “playlists,” or a set order of advertisements. A vertical screen optimizes the amount of advertisements displayed on the screen at once.

In this way, each department doesn’t need to purchase more screens, and, like the transportation services office, they can just rotate what they already have and rely on one screen.

And while screen size matters, wall size matters, too. Benson said that installing a massive horizontal screen requires fitting and reinforcing the wall, a long and expensive process.

“Vertical allows you to solve the problem of putting something in there without spending a fortune to retrofit the building. You have to have space. And you have to get one big enough so it can be read from a distance,” Benson said. “All this math goes into hanging one of these on the wall.”

AFFECTING THE FILM INDUSTRY

Adapting video to fit on a vertical screen isn’t difficult. Benson said it only requires switching two numbers of code.

“This resolution right here is 16:9. And to change it, I went into one line of code and swapped the 9 and 16 and it worked. That’s how quick it was,” Benson said.

But Benson said the problem isn’t in post-production; it’s behind the screen, during production.

“I think it’s the people filming that will suffer,” Benson said.

Vertical requires a close up and narrow shot. Many TV shows are built around the promise of stage space, such as talk shows, when more than one person needs to be in the shot. Set designers and blocking would be heavily affected, rethinking the purpose of each shot.

Talk shows like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon are evolving to combat this problem by placing two narrow, single-person shots next to one another. This in turn elicits a more personal and intimate feel while still including the other guests on the show.

And the cameras that exist now are focused on horizontal shots. Yes, new cameras are now coming out specifically designed to shoot vertically, but these are expensive and not yet commonplace.

To combat this, Benson said people are taking the cameras they already have and placing tape on the viewfinder to see what part of the shot they will lose when producing vertically. And there are even a few vertical video hacks floating around the internet about it.

WHERE WILL VIDEO GO NEXT?

While technology is advancing, the only way to normalize it to consumers is through what they already have. The TV bares a resemblance to past horizontal media: theater.

Because of the horizontal nature of stage blocking, both consumers and media grew accustomed to viewing media horizontally, and their household belongings followed suit.

Early American households were designed around the family radio. Eventually, they swapped out their radios for the horizontal TV.

The common living room layout developed around the TV, with new furniture designed to house and display the TV.

Later, the desktop computer mimicked this horizontal nature. People grew accustomed to seeing a horizontal screen and associating it with importance. Horizontal screens were attention grabbing, but not anymore.

So how long until you see a vertical TV in your home?

“Its gotta be a few years out,” Benson said. “They’re gonna come in appliances first … Our furniture would have to change.”

But before you get too comfortable in your horizontal home, take a look at the newest appliances. The screen on your blender? Vertical. What about on your fridge? Your Thermostat? The screen in your new Tesla? Exactly.

With all that said, don’t feel ashamed of your modest black bar frame origins and certainly not that failed project. Pull out your Rolodex and give Ms. Johnson a call because vertical video isn’t a mistake—it’s here to stay.

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