Instagram pushes another broadcaster to go vertical as viewers tire of flipping screens

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Since the dawn of television, viewers have favored video images that are wider than they are tall - first on boxy TV sets and later on broad, flat digital displays.

The rise of the smartphone is driving a shift to vertical video as advertisers and young influencers create content that can be viewed with ease on handsets without flipping them 90 degrees.

Now a traditional broadcaster is getting in on the game.

Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE has started vertical business "Vert" to help it capture advertising dollars migrating from classical TV to the internet. Vert’s videos for corporate clients will run on platforms such as Facebook’s Instagram, whose more than 1 billion users already watch clips in 9:16 format.

The move comes as ProSieben tries to reinvent itself as a provider of multi-platform digital content amid a shift in video viewing onto a wider array of devices. Chief Executive Officer Max Conze is hoping that will generate new sources of income to offset a loss of television viewers to Netflix and Amazon.com’s Prime Video.

"The popularity of Instagram among young people has increased dramatically over the past years," said ProSieben’s chief digital officer for entertainment, Eun-Kyung Park. "Smartphone usage is 98% vertical, and that requires completely new ways of storytelling."

Vertical growth

Broadcasters across the world have dabbled in vertical viewing. Before Pope Francis visited Ireland in August, local broadcaster RTE produced several 9:16 videos and published them on various social networks. ESPN started a short-form version of its popular SportsCenter show on Snapchat last year. And the BBC has been showing vertical clips - including ads - on its BBC News app since 2016.

The format got a boost in June, when Instagram introduced IGTV, a TV feature that lets users post vertical clips of up to an hour, comment on them and share them with friends - features designed to appeal to both bloggers and companies.

ProSieben wants to hook up the companies that use Vert with its network of social media influencers. In an interview, Park said it would also produce clips to create social media buzz for the broadcaster’s own shows, which include Germany’s Next Top Model, featuring Heidi Klum.

The challenge for Vert will be to grab the attention of fickle consumers as they swipe through mountains of content. Park said ProSieben had already shown it can build reach for advertisers on YouTube, generating about 1 billion video views per month.

"It shows we understand the business model," she said.

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