From The Next Webcomes a fascinating look into the rise of "vertical dramas," or sitcoms and series filmed specifically for vertical play on mobile devices, with no need for rotation. Journalist Henry Sung points out that other companies like Spotify and Snapchat have also capitalized on the function with vertical music videos and "original content." And the convenience of a vertically-aligned video for users who predominantly access media content on their smartphones has even influenced Samsung Electronics to announce the "Sero," a television specifically for vertical video.
The "Sero" Television
However, the Chinese vertical drama demonstrates a more thorough investment into what vertical—as a form—has to offer, particularly in how filmmakers creatively navigate the narrowed aspect ratio. Sung narrows down the unique characteristics of the vertical video into three components: "super short episodes, [...] vertical is treated as a genre, [and] fragmented visual language." The above clip from Ugh! Life!experiments in a downward-facing angle for a two person conversation, widening our perception of spacial depth in a fast-moving scene interrupted by multiple cutaways. Elsewhere, the series Arg Directoruses split-screens, led by a speedy voiceover—fast enough for viewers to quickly watch on a subway commute or in bed after a long day of work.
The trend—and the patterns identified by Henry Sung—overall indicate a global shift towards videos that compress cinema into something faster, more non-narrative, and more accessible (specifically via the Internet). The defunct video-sharing platform Vine incorporated a 1:1 (square) aspect ratio, but in its place is the wildly popular app TikTok (which originally launched in China), whose comedic creatives—usually of outlandish and surreal disposition—now rival the celebrity of movie stars. TikTok also allows users to post in 1:1, but vertical remains a predominantly popular frame of choice. And just as the vertical drama targets younger audiences, so does TikTok: “The older generation doesn’t realize how important TikTok is yet,” says B. Dave, a TikTok star interviewed by The Atlantic. “But the younger kids are all on it." Here is your chance to get started on catching up to the vertical videos that all of the kids are watching.
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