Vertical Video: 5 Takeaways From the DW Lab

On June 20th, Instagram launched its new streaming video platform, IGTV. Content on the platform will be longer than typical Instagram posts or stories–up to 60 minutes–and, most importantly, video will be vertical only! So what content works well in vertical? And how can news outlets best produce videos that are "vertical first"? DW's social media department, together with the DW Lab, embarked on a two-week-long experiment with vertical video. Here are five of our most important takeaways.

Think Outside the Box

The most important thing is to think outside the box–literally. Most video content at DW is produced in 16:9 or square formats. Producing vertical video has some critical limitations (try fitting a reporter and an interviewee on screen at the same time!), but also opens up new creative possibilities.

Dividing the screen in half horizontally gives two square fields to play with. For example, b-roll can run at the same time as an interview soundbite and the viewer can decide which screen to pay attention to. And still photos can be "swiped" from one to the next the way a user might on their phone. Plus we found vertical is a perfect fit when it comes to featuring people. It looks like you are holding them in the palm of your hand. These vertical interviews gave us the title of our video series: "DW Portrait Mode."

Know Your Audience

Instagram's audience is unique: it's young, increasingly global and accustomed to informally produced content (think: short selfie videos with filters, emojis, and DIY graphics). So we brainstormed a number of ways to keep our young audience engaged and make this video pilot visually appealing to them.

Some key factors we considered: type of story, visuals, length and content. It became clear that we needed a strong personal story, which we decided to combine with a "selfie style" video of our DW reporter. The selfie videos felt unnatural to us at first, but they turned out to be quite popular with our testers.

Engage your audience as early as possible

We used the stories feature of Deutsche Welle's Instagram account @dw_stories to engage directly with our audience ahead of time. Using Instagram's poll feature, we asked our users whether they watch IGTV and if so, what their favorite channel is. We also posted a video message to ask our users to take part in a special focus group for feedback on the pilot episode. Many users participated in the poll. A few dozen volunteered for the focus group. The feedback proved invaluable.

Try a New–and Old–Workflow

Filming vertical video is easy, right? Just turn your phone around! Not so fast. While we did film our reporter selfie videos vertically (we shot with an iPhone 8), we produced the rest of our material with a DSLR camera in horizontal 4K resolution. We positioned all important objects and people in the center of the camera screen. This turned out to be extremely beneficial during post production. The resulting material was of higher quality, and we could crop different parts of the video material to fit the vertical screen.

Learn from Failure and Success

After editing the first episode titled "Locked up by East Germany," we ran a test on our private DW Lab Instagram account. We asked our focus group a series of questions via a Google Form.

Despite our initial doubts, this confirmed that most of our testers loved the "selfie style" videos of our reporter. It brings them closer to the story, as the reporter is talking directly to them as he guides them through, in this case, a former Stasi prison.
One user said, "I particularly enjoy that a selfie video is never left alone on screen, there is always the other section showing what the reporter sees. I love it."

Although IGTV allows for videos of up to 60 minutes, most of our testers appreciated the relatively short duration of just over 4 minutes. But we will need to improve the way we use text graphics, particularly subtitles. Feedback revealed that they were too small, too low on the screen, and easily missed at the bottom of the fast-moving video. And we didn't utilize other text graphics to their fullest potential.

Carl Nasman (DW Social Media), Nadja Scholz, Angela Kea, Andy Giefer

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