Vertical video pays off for Snapchat

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Jefferson Graham goes behind the scenes to visit a Los Angeles production company that makes vertical video for red-hot messaging apop Snapchat on #talkingtech. Sean Fujiwara
A vertical kitchen was built at Tastemade Studios in Santa Monica to produce video in the landscape format for Snapchat (Photo: Jefferson Graham)
6 CONNECT 5 TWEET LINKEDIN COMMENT EMAIL MORE SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Watching video vertically is so popular on mobile phones that one production company here just built a new vertical kitchen.
The cabinets and food cans are tall--just right for being viewed on a phone held upright, as red-hot app Snapchat has found most of its 100 million users want to do.
“Our viewers prefer vertical,” says Nick Bell, who serves as Snapchat’s head of content. “We’ve seen a 9 times higher engagement rate with vertical rather than horizontal video.”
The reasons are myriad. Snapchat users tend to hold their phones naturally, in vertical mode, the video takes up 100% of the screen and “you don’t have to turn the phone, you don’t have to zoom in, you don’t have to expand the window,” says Bell. “It’s just right there and the story is right in front of you.”
Steven Kydd, a Tastemade co-founder, built the kitchen to produce programming for Snapchat’s Discover channel, which features 14 channels of short-form videos from the likes of CNN, People magazine, BuzzFeed and others, with a new form of fast-paced, vertical video.
Tastemade, backed by Food Network owner Scripps, media giant Comcast and Sirius XM owner Liberty Media, produces travel, food and lifestyle videos that are seen on Facebook, YouTube and Apple TV, with for Snapchat, has placed a huge bet on vertical video.
Snapchat head of content Nick Bell. (Photo: Sean Fujiwara)
And with winning a coveted space on Discover, why not?
Discover is an invitation only way (from Snapchat) to reach young viewers who rarely, if ever, watch TV. The feature launched in January as a way to extend the Snapchat experience, and it’s caught on in a big way. Some 4 billion video views are generated on Snapchat per day.
Behind the scenes from USA TODAY's recent visit to Tastemade Studios in Santa Monica, which is producing vertical video travel, food and lifestyle programming for Snapchat. Here,Jefferson Graham interviews Tastemade's Steven Kydd in the vertical kitchen it built for making Snapchat videos. Sean Fujiwara Fullscreen Behind the scenes from USA TODAY's recent visit to Tastemade Studios in Santa Monica, which is producing vertical video travel, food and lifestyle programming for Snapchat. Notice that even the TV monitors on set are vertically placed. Sean Fujiwara Fullscreen The cabinets are wide, but the ingredients are vertical, in Tastemade's studio. Jefferson Graham Fullscreen The Snapchat logo Jefferson Graham Fullscreen All the signs in the studio kitchen are vertical. Jefferson Graham Fullscreen Tastemade Studios is producing vertical video travel, food and lifestyle content for Snapchat Jefferson Graham Fullscreen A Sony A7S camera is placed vertically at Tastemade Studios for a video shoot Sean Fujiwara Fullscreen The TV screens at Tastemade are vertical Jefferson Graham Fullscreen Vertical TV sets adorn the walls at Tastemade Studios Jefferson Graham Fullscreen Tastemade Studios is in Santa Monica Jefferson Graham Fullscreen Tastemade co-founder Steven Kydd shows Snapchat's Nick Bell his logo Sean Fujiwara Fullscreen Sean Fujiwara frames his shot of Steven Kydd and Nick Bell shooting a selfie Jefferson Graham Fullscreen Steven Kydd takes a vertical selfie with Snapchat's Nick Bell. Sean Fujiwara Fullscreen Like this topic? You may also like these photo galleries: Replay Autoplay Show Thumbnails Show Captions Last Slide Next Slide Despite being educated not to shoot videos in vertical mode--because they lose a big chunk of the frame and often seen big black bars--millennials continue to do it, and watched videos that way as well, notes Peter Csathy, CEO of Manatt Digital Media, which consults with tech firms. “Snapchat seems to have smartly identified that it should be consistent with its audience behavior rather than trying to change it.”
Snapchat was born in a Stanford University dorm room in 2001, and quickly found favor among young folks looking for a way to be silly and cute without having a permanent record of their activities. That’s morphed through the years into producing media for the Snapchat audience, and the company is now valued at $16 billion.
Promo shot of Snapchat user enjoying a vertical video from Tastemade in its Discover section. (Photo: Snapchat)
The Venice Beach based company has started figuring out how to monetize its audience. Snapchat recently started charging 99 cents to get replays of Snap photos, and has attracted major advertisers like Coca-Cola, Verizon and ABC to Discover.
“Advertisers want to reach the young viewer, and there’s no better way than to do it through a mobile device,” says Kydd. “It’s a large, engaged and growing millennial audience.”
Here at the studio, Tastemade produces for the millennial generation with professional cameras--big Sony A7S and Canon 5D Mark III cameras are rigged to tripods--but placed vertically, and the studio is as lit as it would be for any landscape production. As Kydd points out, he shifts back and forth between vertical video for Snapchat, and full-frame landscape for other clients like Apple TV. "They want the full 4K experience," he says.
Meanwhile, as popular as vertical video is on mobile, Bell doesn’t see it coming to the theaters and home TVs anytime soon.
The current wide-screen 16x9 aspect ratio “makes sense,” for TVs and movies, Bell says. “People will produce content for the consumption device. Maybe they’ll shoot and edit it twice.”
But, adds Bell, “For our audience, the millennials, it’s the most natural way to consume content.” Beyond Snapchat, “media companies and publishers will start to naturally produce for mobile, and as far as I’m concerned, that means vertical.”
Tastemade Studios co-founder Steve Kydd in the kitchen he built to produce vertical video. (Photo: Sean Fujiwara)
Follow USA TODAY Tech columnist and Talking Tech host Jefferson Graham on Twitter, where he’s @jeffersongraham and listen to his daily audio tech reports on Stitcher and TuneIn.