More than 75% of worldwide video viewing takes places on mobile devices. Sill, there is no standard for how to consume mobile video content. As the major industry players compete to become the leader of mobile-first content consumption, a common misconception is to think of content as having a singular characteristic. Short-form vs. long-form is the most frequently used differentiator (behind vertical vs. horizontal), but neither term accurately depicts mobile as the point of consumption. It’s descriptive of the duration of the content and doesn’t take into account where it’s streaming, whether on a phone, television, or laptop.

I wanted to make it clear why mobile-first content requires more effort than merely being short, regardless of whether or not it’s horizontal, vertical, or even long-form. From my experience, the intention in developing the content is what can make it truly mobile-first and primed for the distracted audience everyone is looking to capture.

What is Short-Form Content?

When I think of short-form content, I think of any video that is short in length. However, just because the content is short doesn’t mean it’s optimized for mobile consumption. If length is the only categorization, you could technically call commercials “short-form content.” Commercials meet the definition of “short” ranging from fifteen seconds to a minute, but you would have a hard time finding anyone that would consider your standard TV commercials as being mobile optimized just because of the length.

While mobile content is likely short, it’s more of a byproduct of other elements that make the content mobile optimized. Storytelling for mobile is inherently different than storytelling intended for other mediums that happens to run on mobile. For example, when making a movie, the director knows that he or she has a captive audience for roughly two hours. Therefore, the director can take ample time telling the story with character exploration and subplots. This isn’t the case for mobile, where time is a luxury, and you can lose your audience in a split second.

Then What is Mobile-First Content?

Mobile-first content needs to be designed first and foremost for a mobile user experience. Think about how you use your own phone – while you’re on one app you may get a text from a friend that interrupts browsing through a social feed. This means that mobile-first content competes with everything, too. So the time that you have to attract an audience and keep them engaged is limited. You are constantly competing for attention.

When designing mobile content, you don’t have the capacity for exposition shots or supporting characters. Instead, you need to capture your audience instantaneously. It’s not about the length of the content, but how quickly you can engage the viewer and then hold their attention. In essence your story arc needs to be focused on rising action that has a clear payoff, otherwise the second you have a dull moment the audience is gone.

It’s best to mirror the user experience of mobile-first content akin to how people use their phones. In order to do so, you have to be conscious of creating a viewing experience that is dense with information and prompts the audience for lean-in interactivity to sustain interest.

For example, split screens are highly engaging as this technique compresses the storyline and presents more visual stimulation. Another best practice is to layer text over the content, which makes your screen more interactive and invites the audience to more actively follow along. These elements need to be intentionally planned for during development and production so that they can be naturally integrated into the content without feeling forced.

So what does the future hold?

There’s an opportunity for a leader to emerge in premium, mobile-first content. Smartphones will only continue to become a centerpiece of our lives, so it’s important that those in both traditional Hollywood and digital media first understand the differences of short-form vs. mobile to reach today’s audiences. If you believe short content is the only threshold for mobile-first success, this tunnel vision will lead to disappointment. Creating mobile specific content requires rethinking the rules of storytelling, considering mobile as a point of consumption rather than a secondary distribution point, and, most importantly, developing content through the lens of a mobile user experience.

Even as platforms like IGTV shift their definition of what is mobile content, it needs to be intentionally developed for a hyper-distracted environment, whether vertical or horizontal or long or short. If not, both platforms and content creators will continue to struggle. As we all know, there is a lot of change in the media landscape, and everyone is trying to adjust to what’s happening today and what’s next. I believe that 2019 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for both content studios and brands to establish themselves as “getting it” in mobile-first content.


Jesús Chavez is the Chief Executive Officer of Vertical Networks, the world’s leading mobile-first content studio, producing daily editorial and video properties driven by real-time insights. In his role, Chavez is responsible for building a premium monetization arm, creating new IPs that are meant to travel to new formats, and expanding the brand’s presence across platforms, sub-brands, and direct-to-consumer.

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