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Japan's Smartphone Video Viewers Turn Devices to Portrait Mode

Vertically-oriented messaging apps may be driving the switch

March 16, 2016

Japanese video viewers aren’t just spending more time watching mobile video. They’re also increasingly choosing to watch such content using portrait mode—where a device is oriented vertically.

According to February 2016 research from Japanese media firm Mobercial, the percent of smartphone video viewers who preferred watching using a combination of both landscape and portrait modes increased by five percentage points during the period between July 2015 and January 2016. Meanwhile the number who said they preferred watching exclusively in landscape mode (where a device is oriented horizontally) fell by five percentage points during the same period.

Smartphone Video Viewers in Japan Who Prefer Portrait* vs. Landscape** Screen Orientation When Viewing Video via Smartphone, July 2015 & Jan 2016 (% of respondents)

Although there’s no single conclusive explanation for the behavior shift, several factors may be contributing to this growing preference for vertically-oriented mobile video. One potential factor is the popularity of vertically-oriented apps like Line, a messaging app that includes a video viewing component in its interface. According to November 2015 research by mobile gaming firm Colopl, more than 50% of Line users in Japan across all demographics, access the site daily.

Frequency with Which Line Users in Japan Access Line, by Demographic, Nov 2015 (% of respondents in each group)

The location and situation where smartphone video viewers in Japan watch mobile video may also play a role in their preference for portrait vs. landscape viewing. Additional survey results from Mobercial found that watching mobile video while on a subway or train was among the three most popular situations to consume such content, with 21% of respondents reporting such behavior. While it's hard to say for certain, the popularity of smartphone video viewing in multitasking situations like commuting may contribute to a preference for portrait mode, which is easier to control with just one hand.

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