BBC News app launches vertical video – is the joke on us?

The BBC has dealt a blow to opponents of vertical video, by announcing a landmark step to transform their mobile News app – adding a portrait feature.

Sixty per cent of BBC News’ online traffic now comes via mobile – more after big news events, they say – and they’ve judged the vertical view more intuitively appealing to those viewers, according to James Montgomery, the corporation’s director of digital, who announced the move on Twitter today.

Montgomery tweeted: “c 60 pc of BBC News’ online traffic now comes via mobile – more after big news events – and the portrait view feels natural on smartphone.”

Picture: BBC News
Picture: BBC News

In a blog, James Metcalfe, the executive product manager for BBC News apps, said several issues had deterred people from watching BBC News video on mobiles.

“Most of our video has traditionally required sound, which can be a problem when viewing in public and much of the video was embedded in small screens making it hard to watch without rotating the phone. In addition, much of our video offer has so far consisted of longer TV pieces that aren’t ideal if you’re after a quick update and short of time,” he wrote.

“Our new vertical video addresses all those issues. It will be shorter than films used elsewhere on the BBC and tell news stories in a succinct and snappy way. In addition, all of our vertical videos are subtitled and can be used without the sound on.” He added: “We are continually looking for new ways to make our video journalism available to [the] mobile-only audience. The apps team has been collaborating closely with our editorial and video production colleagues across the BBC to look at everything from the way we shoot and edit news video through to the user experience in the app.”

According to Montgomery, the BBC News app already has 7.6 million weekly active users in the UK, and 7.2 million elsewhere.

Metcalf said they had been testing the service with ‘beta’ audiences for a few months and the response has been largely positive, but added that they’re keen to learn more from the launch and continue to improve the feature. They must be pretty confident that the mobile audience want it this way, despite the objections of pretty much every camera operator I know. (Check out the famous Vertical Video Syndrome PSA below for a humorous view on this)

There’s an interesting technical question here: BBC News acquires mostly in HD, meaning that if you crop it you get a significantly lower-definition frame. But the trend for mobile devices is for increasingly higher resolution on their compact screens, with HD now becoming the norm. If they’re really serious about their mobile audiences, in the long-term, they’re either going to have turn their cameras on their sides, as we recently reported a Swedish Norwegian network has done, or start shooting in 4K, which would require a whole ream of new equipment and an infrastructure to deal with it.

Are the BBC barking up the wrong tree or are they the pioneers here? Let us know what you think.

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