Industry POV

Think vertical? Open to debate - Shamsuddin Jasani

19 Jan 2018

My Blog of last week on vertical thinking in mobile content In 2018, Think Vertical evinced a lot of debate and discussion. To put some structure into the opinions being discussed, I invited three thought leaders to write for us at Campaign India. Shamsuddin Jasani, the Managing Director of Isobar India is without doubt one of the beacons of Digital India. Avantika Hari Agrawal is a young achiever with a National Award to her credit. Vinta Nanda is a legendary writer. Her serial Tara changed television in the 1990s. Vinta was also the Chief Ideation Officer of Zee during the days I ran that network. All of our three guest writers are authorities in the business.

Vertical video is completely aligned with user behaviour

Shamsuddin Jasani, MD- Isobar India

 Shams has been in the digital industry for over 16 years. He launched Isobar in India in August 2008. He’s been named an A-Lister on Campaign India’s top 500 people in advertising and marketing list and has featured on e4m's Impact Magazine’s Digital Power100 list last two years in a row.  

Conventionally, we have always watched video on horizontal, large screens. Today, video penetration has progressively switched to mobile phones, and this certainly indicates a shift in the way we consume video: today’s mobile video audiences are more involved with vertical video than horizontal video. Social media platforms are the key drivers of vertical video content, in particular Instagram, Snapchat, vertical video presents an opportunity to publishers that familiarise to this trend and bring the vertical viewing experience to their consumers.

 We hold the phone vertically hence it is very natural to shoot in vertical format.

 Almost a year has gone by since major social platforms like Snapchat, Instagram started to fully support vertical video. We now see Snapchat-style features like Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories, and WhatsApp Status in rapid progression, but have also rapidly expanded their capital take offerings to support vertical video ads on both desktop and mobile.

 Audiences today give preference to mobile viewing more than any other forms leading to attract almost four times more engagement than square videos on Facebook, and 2.5 times more on Twitter.  

Brands today are seeing achievement for their ROI’s for their vertical video ads that are 9x higher than their horizontal video ads, suggesting that users are more expected to stay engaged with video that is vertical. By putting the viewer in the centre, the portrait frame is appealing to today’s selfie and connected generation called as ‘Millennials’.

 I don’t see a time very far away when even news sites will start showcasing their videos in vertical format to suit the needs of the medium and how the content is being consumed

 Vertical video is completely aligned with user behaviour. Along with the rise of vertical, videos also are becoming more captivating with 360-degree viewing and augmented reality etc. But more and more of these are now being shot in vertical format.  

Vertical versus horizontal  

Avantika Hari Agrawal, Award-Winning Film Producer

Avantika won the National Award for her debut film, “Land Gold Women”. She is an MA in Filmmaking from the London Film School. She received the commonwealth vision award from H.R.H. Prince Edward for a short film, “Hat Day”.

 When the Lumiere brothers showcased one of the the world’s first films of a train arriving at a station, the audience seated inside the darkened circus tent, screamed and moved out of the way. Upon realising they’ve been fooled, they laughed at the almost magical impact of this new phenomenon and bought tickets to experience it again. 

 These short “cinematographs” became so popular, studios invested in making them longer in length, more complex in design and more immersive in their appeal. They added colour and sound and soon transformed into what we now call the movies. 

 From that circus experience, the movies evolved into an industry, spawning studios, movie halls and even schools in the process. The 35mm film patented by Thomas Alva Edison quickly became an international horizontal standard, transforming movies into special experiences that could be enjoyed by people across the globe. The medium was expensive and thus the investment was large. It required trained professionals and strict processes to manage, create and distribute finished products. Audiences would travel significant distances to watch a new film until the digital medium arrived and changed everything. 

 Today, videos come in varying formats and time frames, and we experience them in the palm of our hands. Anybody can make them, post them, share them. Audiences quickly embrace new trends, adapt to new formats and drown in this seemingly vast ocean of content. But what hadn’t changed in all this time, was the horizontal orientation of the moving image. 

 2017 was called the year of the Vertical Video. The latest greatest content consumption “shift” became real when YouTube allowed users to upload, record and share vertical videos in August last year without the ugly confines of the horizontal format. Spotify, musical.ly and Mashable also embraced vertical videos, joining 112 other sites that published and promoted the new format. (http://on.mash.to/2mI2p3B) 

 According to a report published by Mediaradar (http://bit.ly/2DJqTl8), Vertical videos saw 3x returns in lesser average engagement times, when compared to their horizontal video counterparts.

 While it is still early days for Vertical Video, in the race for engagement and eyeballs, and the growing proliferation of smart phones, Vertical Video will soon be the format of choice. There’s no debate here. It appeals both to the orientation of our screens and our desire for convenience, but video makers have been slow to discard tradition and navigate this new format. Vertical video requires investment of technology and talent. It demands a new grammar of shot taking and execution, but mastering this can hold the key to creating audience delight. 

 It seems that in order to entertain and retain audiences, content creators need to be more than just mere storytellers. We now have to be creators of memorable experiences. We need to design campaigns for the end user, on her device of choice and exploit its capabilities fully, in order to create keep her fully engaged and delighted enough to come back for more.

 And this is not just true of vertical video. Today, we stand at the threshold of a time when content goes beyond the screen. Today, it’s vertical, tomorrow its VR. And as access becomes easier, consumption more ubiquitous, engagement more challenging, what will never change is the persistence of novelty - our penchant for the thrill and delight experienced by that audience in the circus tent.

The truth about storytellers and their dogs

Vinta Nanda, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Asian Centre for Entertainment Education

 Vinta is best known for her iconic TV serial, Tara, that revolutionized television in the 1990s. She is also a storyteller, a filmmaker, a content strategist and a creative activist. She's a nomad who loves her dog and who will head back to the mountains when she grows old.

 I’m going to take off from where Sandeep Goyal, ends his blog which is titled, ‘In 2018, Think Vertical’ and which was published on the 10th January 2018 in Campaign India.

 He has said it all in his article and as a content strategist I’m with him.

 But he ends his piece by saying that the real challenge is for content creators and art directors who in the year 2018 will need to now think vertical?   So here’s the thing.

 When did content creators and art directors ever think in aspect ratio? And if they ever really did, it was for what we call in present times, ‘F@!# You Money’.

 I can vouch for that because as a content creator and as a creative director, I’ve only straight-jacketed myself at those times when I was broke and needed money.

 Creativity is fluid and fits the vessel that it is poured into, often spilling out of it when the bucket runs out of space. So is storytelling the same.

 When I was a kid I would most often than not, except for in the classes when we were taught geography which fascinated me as a subject for its infinitesimal amplitude and expanse; float away with my thoughts until I would be brought back with a rude shock when a question was tossed my way which I hadn’t heard being asked to me by my teachers.

 In that specific moment, when I would shudder out of my world of consummate imagination I would see my teacher as though she was standing on her head or else floating in the air horizontally. I grew up going to a convent school and the teacher often happened to be a nun. That would be even funnier and at first, I would always respond to a scolding with a giggle.

 The tiny laughter was something none of my teachers or for that matter any of my elders at home would understand because they would expect that I should sulk when being reprimanded.  I grew up to be an oddball. I still am, and oftentimes when I meet my compatriots like fellow writers, artists, stargazers et al, I see that they are the just same as me, forcing themselves to listen to what is being said, compelling themselves to pay attention to what is happening around them and imposing upon themselves the most damnable thing in the world; which is to be actually listening to the person who is talking to them.

Screens will come and screens will go. 

In the 1980’s when I came to this city, which was called Bombay then, all I wanted to do was tell stories. Cinemascope was new and it was beginning to replace the 35mmscreen, which in turn had totaled 16mm screens in a fatal collision with innovation and evolution.

During college in Chandigarh, we were shown the same film; it was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand, with Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan lending their most brilliant performances to date; every single weekend on a 16mm screen and with the poorest sound ever. We would bunk college and go to KC, Jagat or Neelam Theatre to see Mr Bachchan drawl in his baritone in movie after movie on 70mm screens instead.

 Then came TV, black and white to color, square to flat, smart and horizontal. Now we manage more than one screen at a time, switching from one aspect ratio to another like swinging moods, and AR and VR are creeping up on us is the least that can be said. 

 Technology is as endless as the infinitesimal imagination that the soul of a creative mind bears, and it will keep evolving to expand the experience as time goes by. We’ll create diverse narratives at times, telling the same stories over and over again and relying on the experience that we want to share with our audiences. We will remake the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Occult, the Frog Prince, Cinderella or Louis The IV in different compositions and styles; and at other times, we will express an occurrence that we personally encountered and/or survived, building on the contemporary substance we consumed at the time and which we arranged and structured in abstraction to leave our viewers crying for more.

 Right now as I sit writing this piece on my laptop and as I look at the words I’m printing on a horizontal screen, my big black dog Charlie who is almost 14 years old, is sitting besides me on the floor and begging me with his eyes for the ‘Gajak’ which I’m also eating. 

 I’m now wondering how I look to him as he stares at me from such a low angle? 

Does he care? 

The inevitability of the vertical format is obvious, except perhaps to those who want to shut their eyes to the future.  

This is a one-sided debate for now. So, I will let it rest just here.

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