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Vertical video finally became a thing this year

Charmaine Blake

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A view of people holding phones at NBC’s “Today”

Image: Noam Galai/WireImage

The iPhone X is basically one gigantic screen, but the “notch” right at the top of the display guides the owner on how to hold it. The phone should be held vertically, where the length is far longer than the width.

And yet, since the introduction of the iPhone a decade ago, online videos have forced people to turn their phone 90 degrees to view horizontally. The motion even inspired the name and marketing for Verizon’s go90, a video streaming app that launched in October 2015. 

This year, however, the script was finally flipped. One of the biggest trends to emerge on popular social sites was vertical video — or video filmed in portrait mode rather than horizontally. 

One of the biggest stories cementing this trend was when online video giant YouTube updated its app in August to begin playing vertical videos at full size, rather than shoehorning them into horizontal boxes as it had for so many years. The company also released a new feature for recording and sharing vertical-only videos in November.

Another indicator of this growing trend is its presence in popular new apps and some of the largest acquisitions of the year. For example, one of the fastest-growing apps this year, HQ trivia,  changed live game shows by letting users play along on their phones. The “show” in this case is a  vertical video of a trivia contest that awards winners cash prizes.

HQ wasn’t the only app to fully embrace portrait-style videos. Spotify also started promoting vertical music videos earlier this year, and lip-syncing app Musical.ly also embraced vertical videos before it was acquired in November for $1 billion.

MediaRadar, an ad sales analytics company, claims at least 112 sites were using vertical video over the first three months of 2017. And of course, Mashable was recognized with the 2017 Digiday Award for “most innovative publisher” in part due to our site’s new vertical video format Mashable Reels

Of course, not every internet video is vertical these days. Movies and TV shows still use horizontal video to capture our attention, though at a decreasing rate. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are also growing in popularity and require viewing in landscape mode. Facebook Watch and Twitter Live may offer publishers both formats, but the overwhelming majority of shows are horizontal. 

Still, humanity’s laziness — and the natural orientation of a smartphone — along with the ubiquity of smartphones and the growth of mobile online video helped give rise to more vertical video in 2017. 

Vertical video is “completely aligned with user behavior. It seems obvious now, but when we all use our phone by default we’re all shooting vertically because we’re too lazy to put our phone sideways,” said Aaron Shapiro, CEO of digital consulting company Huge. “It’s a testament to everything great and terrible about user behavior all at once. We’re such passive creatures even the smallest behavior can just be giant barrier.”

Vertical’s slow rise 

Vertical video is nothing new. As soon as Steve Jobs presented consumers with iPhone cameras, people started taking photos and shooting videos in portrait mode more frequently. 

But videographers groaned. 

“I strongly believe you lose visual real estate when displaying vertical video,” Anthony Quintano, head of video for Honolulu Civil Beat, told Mashable via Twitter message when asked for his opinion on the format. “Just because I don’t agree with it, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”

Snapchat cofounder Evan Spiegel was one of those people who ignored peoples’ grievances. Valuable real estate was lost when people held their phones vertically while watching horizontal videos, Spiegel argued to advertisers at the Cannes Lions festival in 2015 as he pitched his 3Vs “vertical video views” strategy.

“Part of Snapchat’s appeal is that they’re not like everybody else, but that’s constantly a challenge when it comes to advertisers. Advertisers will do little to work more,” David Berkowitz, formerly chief marketing officer at global advertising agency MRY, told me at that time. 

But as time has passed, advertisers and publishers have started to listen and create more vertical videos. 

The good and the bad 

For some publishers, embracing vertical video has been obvious as audiences increasingly come to sites via mobile devices. 

“Our audience is 80 percent mobile at least,” Emily Smith, formerly chief growth officer of Brit+Co, told Mashable back in August.

Vertical Networks, a media company launched in late 2015 by Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth Murdoch, decided to focus more specifically on the format. Its show Phone Swap launched this year and was created exclusively for Snapchat Discover. 

“We create premium short-form formats for mobile. Many of our shows have larger audiences than any show on broadcast television — with up to 14 million people tuning in to Phone Swap each week,” Tom Wright, CEO of Vertical Networks, told Mashable in an email interview. 

Not every show by Vertical Networks is necessarily vertical in orientation, Wright told Mashable, but the studio is one of the few that has created a vertically formatted show for Facebook Watch, such as I Have A Secret

Brit+Co also has created vertical-only content for Snapchat Discover. Unlike other publishers, Brit+Co doesn’t have a daily or weekly channel, but its pop-up channels on Snapchat have been received well, according to Smith. (Full disclosure: Mashable is also a Snapchat Discover partner).

“When you’re limited by certain specs and format sometimes that’s the best environment to come up with something unique,” Smith said. 

Still, vertical video is not an easy format to adopt for designers and videographers. 

“The problem with vertical or square videos is that you have to resize all your footage or animation,” Debbie Saslaw, who worked at HBO digital and helped build its creative for Snapchat. “Some companies shoot vertically, but it’s a waste of time if you want to repurpose that content.”

Meanwhile, horizontal video still remains the focus of TV broadcasters and high-end video bets like Facebook with Watch and Twitter with Live. 

“As far as mainstream goes, you won’t see broadcasters change their ways now,” Quintano said. “You may see platforms make the option available for vertical, but it will never drop the option to watch something horizontal.”

Looking forward

Vertical video has never been more present among distribution platforms and publishers than it is right now, and yet, it’s arguably still early days.

“Publishers need resources — money, talent and technology — to build out their capabilities,” Todd Krizelman, CEO and cofounder of MediaRadar, wrote in his company’s white paper on vertical video. 

TV has analytics firm Nielsen and a wealth of advertising dollars to back up the value of its format, but the shake-up among the brands that have pivoted to video has publishers wary of the bet on online video that is often optimized for smartphones. 

“People want to consume as much in as little as possible, but whether that’s going to sustain and satisfy people, that’s a play,” said Parker Ray, chief digital strategist of public relations company MWWPR. “Why are we spending all this time and money on something that’s going to be scrolled through very quickly?”

Along with the rise of vertical, videos also are becoming more immersive with 360-degree viewing and augmented reality. Perhaps smartphone owners may be more motivated to flip their phones if it means placing a T-rex in their surroundings as Apple demonstrated in its iPhone X ads

As Quintano noted, “Vertical video is just another step into the future.”

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/12/28/vertical-video-mainstream-year/

New Movie Tech

AT&T launches a low-cost live TV streaming service, WatchTV

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AT&T this morning announced the launch of a second TV streaming service, called WatchTV, days after its merger with Time Warner. The lower-cost alternative to AT&T’s DirecTV Now will offer anyone the ability to join WatchTV for only $15 per month, but the service will also be bundled into AT&T wireless plans. This $15 per month price point undercuts newcomer Philo, which in November had introduced the cheapest over-the-top TV service at just $16 per month.

The service will arrive for everyone next week, including both wireless subscribers and the general public.

With WatchTV, customers gain access to over 30 live TV channels from top cable networks including A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, History, IFC, Lifetime, Sundance TV, TBS, TLC, TNT, VICELAND, and several others. (Full list below).

Shortly after launch, it will add BET, Comedy Central, MTV2, Nicktoons, Teen Nick, and VH1.

There are also over 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand, along with premium channels and music streaming options as add-ons.

While the new WatchTV service is open to anyone, AT&T is also bundling it into two new unlimited plans for no additional cost.

These plans are the AT&T Unlimited & More Premium plan and the AT&T Unlimited & More plan.

The Premium plan customers will have all the same features of the existing AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced Plan, including 15 GB of high-speed tethering, high-quality video and a $15 monthly credit towards DirecTV, U-verse TV, or, AT&T’s other streaming service, DirecTV Now. They can also choose to add one other option, like HBO…..”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/21/att-launches-a-low-cost-live-tv-streaming-service-watchtv/

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AMCs MoviePass competitor arrives June 26

Charmaine Blake

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It was just a matter of time before AMC went head to head withMoviePass. After all, the two companies have been at odds for some time. Back in January, MoviePass dropped out of 10 of the theater chain’s highest traffic theaters in what was seen as a negotiating tactic. But AMC had no interest in playing ball.

The company had already publicly stated that it had “no intention[…]of sharing any […] admissions revenue,” one of many signs that it was working on its own version of the subscription service. That response arrives June 26, in the form of AMC Stubs A-List, an add-on to the company’s loyalty program.

Signs ups for the service start next week, at $20 a month. And at first glance the whole thing actually sounds pretty good, so long as you’re okay sticking with the 660 or so theaters AMC currently operates in the U.S.

Per the press release:

Through AMC Stubs A-List, members can enjoy any available showtime, any AMC location, any format — including IMAX at AMC, Dolby Cinema at AMC, RealD 3D, Prime at AMC and BigD. AMC Stubs A-List can be used at the spur of the moment or also can make planning ahead days or weeks in advance possible, as securing tickets is made easy via reservations capabilities on the AMCTheatres.com web site, or on the AMC Theatres smartphone app.

The membership includes up to three movies a week at any of the chain’s US locations, with no rollovers. Those three movies can be viewed on the same day, assuming you have a “two-hour buffer” between each and nowhere else to be. The same movie can also be viewed multiple times. Tickets can be purchased online for up to three movies at a time.

There are some non-movie ticket perks, as well, including popcorn upgrades, free refills and a rewards program.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/20/amcs-moviepass-competitor-arrives-june-26/

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5 cool video streaming devices to check out

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Image: Vicky Leta/Mashable

When you start researching video streaming devices, the first ones you’ll find will likely be Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV. Between those three there’s a decent price range, so your search can just stop there, right?

Wrong. While the most popular video streaming devices out there will likely be a good fit for many users, there are other options you should look at. 

Perhaps you’re looking for more versatility? Maybe you’re a power user that wants something extremely tweakable? Are you looking for a cheap PlayStation alternative? Or you’re just looking for the cheapest possible option out there that also does 4K?

We’ve rounded up some of the lesser-known video streaming devices out there to ease your search. 

Cheap with 4K: Xiaomi Mi Box ($69)

Image: Xiaomi

China’s Xiaomi has a reputation for delivering solid products with top-notch specs for an impossibly low price. The company has done it with nearly every gadget you can think of — from smartphones to smart TVs to scooters, and with the Xiaomi Mi Box, it entered the video streaming space as well. 

And yes, for the features it offers — Android TV 6.0, 4K streaming, HDR video support, DTS/Dolby Digital Plus support and a Bluetooth voice remote — the Mi Box is pretty darn cheap at $69. Add to that the elegant, simple, Apple-like design, and you get a pretty sweet deal. 

Since the device is Android TV-based, you get a ton of apps, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Vevo, Vudu Plex, and Google Play Movies & TV. Google Cast is built in, so you’ll be able to send content to your TV from phones, laptops, tablets and more. 

The specs are decent: quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU, MALI 450 GPU 2GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage (expandable via a USB port). And this is where you might find chinks in Mi Box’s armor: While these specs are decent, especially for the price, some users might want more powerful innards to power 4K playback. 

Great for gamers: Nvidia Shield ($179)

Image: Nvidia

Starting at $179, the Nvidia Shield is one of the most expensive video streaming devices, but hear us out. This device is an absolute powerhouse, with an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which should be enough for smooth 4K playback. It also supports HDR playback, Dolby Atmos/DTS-X audio, and comes with a remote, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 jacks, and an HDMI 2.0 jack. It runs Android TV, meaning you get the Google software experience and all the nice apps that go with it. 

But besides being a great media-streaming machine, the Shield’s greatest strength is that it’s also a game console. Add $20 to the base price and you get a game controller (for $299 you also get 500GB of storage instead of 16GB). So what can you do with all that? Play games, of course! For $7.99 per month, you can subscribe to GeForce Now, which lets you play Android titles such as Outlast 2, Obduction, and The Surge as you would with a GTX 1080 GPU, and stream them to your big screen. 

Obviously, you do not need this device if you only want a media streaming device, and that’s perfectly fine. But if price is no issue, and you’re not a big fan of Apple TV, the Nvidia Shield is pretty powerful, and one of the most versatile media streaming devices you’ll find. 

Dirt cheap: Roku Express ($29.99)

Image: Roku

Roku sells quite a few video streaming devices, so you’ll be forgiven if you’ve overlooked the Roku Express. Its specs are nothing special: You get 720p or 1080p resolution, a single HDMI jack, a remote… and that’s about it. 

But where Roku Express wins is the price. At just $29.99, it’s the cheapest option out there (outside of no-name devices from China), and for the price, you also get a remote and an HDMI cable, so you’re ready to go pretty much as soon as you bring it home. It’s the perfect option for someone that’s just not sure whether she needs a media streaming device in their life, or as a secondary device for your bedroom. 

Supported apps include the usual suspects: Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and Google Play Movies & TV, among others.

If you want all the latest bells and whistles, such as 4K resolution and HDR support, you can also check Roku’s most powerful video streaming device, the Roku Ultra. You’ll have to dish out three times the money, as it costs $99, but it’s still a pretty fair price for what you get.  

Power user’s dream: Minix U9-H ($159.90)

Image: Minix

Unlike the other devices in this list, Minix doesn’t have a big brand behind it, but it does have a pretty big following. This is because its video streaming devices are actually much more than that — they’re pretty powerful little computers with impressive specs and a plethora of connectors.

The company’s U9-H came out in 2017, but it’s still one of the best options for media streaming in Minix’s range. It’s got an octa-core, 64-bit, AmLogic S912 processor, a Mali-820 MP3 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. It’s also got a serious array of output connectors: HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio, optical audio, Gigabit Ethernet, and three USB 2.0 ports. Add to that a microSD card reader and you’ll see that adding some serious storage to this baby is no issue. 

Its predecessor, Minix U1, had a pretty big software shortcoming, as it ran on now very dated Android 5 Lollipop. Minix U9-H remedied this by switching to the next version, Android 6 Marshmallow, which makes it a lot more future-proof. 

If you opt for a Minix, know that setting things up isn’t as easy on most other streaming devices — for example, installing something as common as Netflix can be a chore. But if you know your way around Android, you should be fine.

The Minix Neo U9-H can be had on Amazon for $159.90.

Super-versatile: Evanpo T95Z Plus ($104.99)

Image: evanpo

Evanpo’s hexagonal box, the awkwardly named Evanpo T95Z Plus, probably offers the best bang for the buck in terms of sheer specs. It comes in several variants, and the most powerful one sports an octa-core processor (same one as the Minix U9-H), 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, Android 7.1, a remote, and a wireless keyboard — and you get all that for $104.99. 

The T95Z Plus can play 4K videos at 60fps, which should result in a very smooth picture. It also has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, meaning you can connect all sorts of peripherals to it. And did we mention the wireless, full-sized keyboard? No more fidgeting five seconds per letter on a numerical keyboard. 

On the connectivity side, you get two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI port, optical port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. 

The biggest downsides of Evanpo are that it’s a lesser-known brand and that sometimes, getting everything to work as you want might be a more complex than, say, plugging an Amazon stick into your TV. But you’ll be rewarded with a myriad options that very few devices on the market offer. 

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