The Next 20

The Vertical Video Revolution

We all watch video on our phones now. Does that mean the widescreen movie is on its way out?

As the video journalist and researcher Zena Barakat has noted, some of the first moving pictures ever made were shot in a vertical format. But more than a century of widescreen has trained our eyes to understand storytelling best in a horizontal frame.

youtube vertical.

But that’s changing quickly. Based on our current figures, more than half of the readers who land on this page will view it on a mobile device—one that feels way better when you hold it vertically with one hand, not horizontally with two. And the explosive growth of Snapchat and other messaging apps—all of which shoot their images vertically—means that more and more, the video we consume is framed in portrait mode, not landscape. YouTube recognized that fact in 2015 when it started supporting vertical videos in its own app. It won’t be long before a generation reared on tall video asks why it’s being forced to watch these weird, wide movies.

But what does that mean for those of us who love watching a story on a big, wide screen? What would a vertical movie or TV show look like? What would be lost, and what could filmmakers gain by rotating their canvases 90 degrees? In this vertical video for Slate’s anniversary package, the Next 20, I face my doubts about whether I could ever love a vertical video head-on—and find my assumptions turned sideways too.