Horizontal vs. Vertical

Some observations of the differences between the traditional horizontal orientation in media such as film and video, and the recent trend toward vertical orientation resulting from the use of smartphones.

HxV = Landscape vs. Portrait

HxV = Group vs. Individual

HxV = Old/Establishment vs. New/Vanguard/Artist/Youth

Vertical Video is the smartphone coming into its own

In the visual arts such as painting and photography, the horizontal canvas or print is the general mode for landscapes and group presentations, when the artist wants to portray a large scene, context, perspective. The vertical orientation is generally used for close-ups such as personal portraits. It is used to show detail, intimacy.

Our use of camera (to record) and screen (to display) since film has, by and large, been one of horizontal orientation. But that primacy is being challenged by smartphone users.

Vertical favours first-person stories. Personal, blogging, podcasting — stories from/about individuals — or at least centered around the individual. Others may appear, but they’re peripheral — the focus is on the user. The user is special, the user is content. The message is the user, the message is you. The message is the relation between the user of the device and the content, the very personal way that the user relates to the content creator, the subject of the presentation.

The distance between the “host” and the “audience” shrinks to virtually nothing — they are just arm’s lengths away with only the technology in between.

For all intents and purposes, distance disappears. The device being relatively invisible, you and your audience are holding hands, making contact. Now you and your audience are no longer separated by either time or space.

No distance, no removal, no detachment. So there is great involvement, much emotion, reaction, feeling, perception, opinion, observation; but little room for analysis, consideration, logic, reason — those things require distance, detachment. Use of Vertical which plays to the one group of things (involvement, emotion, etc…) will play better with the audience, be more natural than videos which use the other.

Mobile has freed people from having to be stationary (literally allowing them to be more mobile), in one place, with a laptop (literally, it sits on your lap and restricts movement) or desktop computer. Everything they need is on that one device. They don’t need to film something with a camera, take it back to a computer to treat.

With vertical, it’s not longer necessary to ask “Who am I?”. Now it’s “This is who I am.”


There is often tension between the establishment and the vanguard — the leading edge. In the case of HxV, those using Vertical are the artists on the edge, experimenting with the new form — the smart phone. And the smart phone is the technology which is responsible for this. The placement of the camera, ease of use, compels the user to turn it vertically. This is the technology and user starting to get really comfortable with each other. Vertical feels natural, feels right.

To be sure, Vertical videos don’t play well on horizontally-oriented screens. It would be awkward to try to rotate your large wall-mounted flat screen or computer display to make use of vertical orientation. The idea is a bit ridiculous. Smartphones are easy to turn sideways so the opposition of horizontal against vertical, from the smartphone users perspective, doesn’t make much sense. What’s the problem? Just turn it. Jiggle it a bit if you have to to get the orientation to flip, right?

The Horizontal people think that the Vertical people are using their tools the wrong way, but actually the trend to Vertical is quite the opposite — it is the new technology coming into its own, being used the *right* way — the way more suitable. It’s a new technology, a new tool — a new medium. The content of a new medium is always an old medium (or, the content of new media is always old media). So the confusion is understandable — because the new medium (Mobile, smartphones — miniature, powerful, digital computers) has absorbed the old media as its content and is now using it in a different way, a way more suitable to the device and the user and the interaction of the two.

In the history of our use of technology, it’s normal for us to develop a tool for one use, or to be used one way, but eventually find other uses. And that’s what’s happening here.

As a testament to the pace of new technology and obsolescence, it has happened fairly quickly with mobile devices.

It has happened so fast that people who think they are on the edge (youtubers, video bloggers) can’t understand that they’re now actually the establishment, and the past. They are obsolete. Obsolete doesn’t mean dead, it just means that the role has changed from being in the forefront. Something else has taken over — and in this case, that is Vertical, Mobile.

There is now a new interaction, a new relationship. And the users are a new audience.

Monetization, or $$$

Because it always comes down to the dough.

There are comparisons to be drawn here between the music industry and the liberation of recording and sharing music, and the television/film industry. And there are a few lessons to be learned. Remember that obsolete doesn’t mean dead. They are writing and printing more books right now than at any point in history. E-books have not and will not kill printed books — just forced a change in roles. The old form becomes an art from, an aesthetic object to be collected and treasured. Anyone today can record an album with minimal equipment, but musicians still use professionals and recording studios to do serious work. Record labels are still big business — their role has changed, and they’ve had to change the way they do business. They don’t have a monopoly anymore, but it’s still a very large and lucrative pie.

Vertical on Mobile, as a medium which is highly individualistic, is a great marketing environment because the vast majority of consumer dollars are spent by and on behalf of individuals as opposed to groups.
Groups of people would crowd around a storyteller, a radio, a television, a computer — but people consume Mobile devices individually. So when your video is being watched, it’s generally being watched by a single person. It’s just you and them. They know that they are unique and special, and won’t believe anyone who tries to tell them otherwise [how many tens of thousands of young people have lined up to audition for American Idol genuinely believing that they have what it takes, that they are that star just waiting to be found.] Smart marketers and content creators will use that.

Here is an opportunity to reach people on an intimate level, with content that can be produced inexpensively and deliver a lot

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment. This is not a complete analysis, just some quick preliminary observations and thought.

This is an edited version of a more detailed document prepared for the creators of Slinger Video, the latest vertical video app available for iPhone 6

Andrew McLuhan