Will the Smartphone Change the Shape of TV?

Jun 29, 2018
By: Marissa Camilli

Mobile technology has already disrupted the way we consume TV content. It is estimated that almost 50 percent of adults between the ages of 22 and 45 are now no longer watching traditional TV broadcasts. Streaming video channels like Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube have completely torn-up the TV schedules and sent traditional broadcasters into a meltdown about how they can retain their audience (particularly their younger viewers). It is estimated that almost 50 percent of adults between the ages of 22 and 45 are now no longer watching traditional TV broadcasts. But could the smartphone ever replace the TV as the platform of choice for viewing what is still commonly referred to (but for how much longer) as “television” content?

While millennials and Gen Xers are only too happy to binge on boxsets or subscribe to the latest YouTube Vlog on their smartphones, the only real difference to their viewing experience is the size of the screen.

Video content, regardless of how it is broadcast, is nearly always presented in the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio (the shape of a TV screen). This means, when filming or consuming content on a smartphone, users normally turn the device on its side. In fact, content filmed using a device in the vertical position often reeks of amateurism (something your mum or dad would do).

However, this may be about to change, thanks to a new media start-up called Dreams, headed-up by Tom Bender, a former Google product manager, and his co-founder, Greg Hochmuth, an ex-Instagram engineer. Dreams aims to turn TV viewing on its side.

While this might seem like a crazy idea, the company already has some serious backers, with the likes of NEA, Box Group, Ronny Conway’s A Capital Ventures and SV Angels pumping some $5-million into the venture.

So what’s the big idea?

According to Bender, “It’s not comfortable for your wrist to hold a phone on its side.”

He might have a point, but is this “first world problem” really worth a $5-million investment? Well, it might just be if you consider the other reason why Dreams is trying to reshape the way we view TV.

Speaking to journalists, Bender said: “In the future, this [referring to his smartphone] is the only device that will matter.”

Bender continued: “When we started thinking about TV for the phone, we decided that it has to be vertical. It has to be formatted for the way that you hold your phone.”

The initial idea for Dreams came from a dinner conversation the co-founders had in 2016. The Presidential primary debates were underway and they were complaining about how hard it was to watch the debates on their phones.

The Dreams blog explains the concept further: “TV is powerful because it’s simple. When we turn it on, it starts moving instantly and carries us along like a river. Why can’t we enjoy that experience on our phones?

“TV is a medium, not a feature. It can’t be bolted onto something else. It’s not a tab. It deserves an icon on the home screen.”

The Dreams app currently broadcasts content from a number of familiar channels including HGTV, Food Network and Animal Planet. Dreams currently employs editors to re-format traditionally broadcast content to fit the vertical screen. However, this has created a number of challenges.

Bender said: “We’ve had to get creative if there’s a horizontal plane or a boat or something. We have to adapt everything so that it works for the device.”

However, Dreams is also reformatting content, including news content from Bloomberg, in real time.

Bender explained: “We have software that we wrote that takes their signal, figures out who’s talking, and then adapts it to the frame and redissolves the graphics. The outcome of that is something that feels really made for the phone.”

And Dreams isn’t the only company betting big on vertical viewing.

Unsurprisingly, Greg Hochmuth’s former employer Instagram is also apparently very keen on the idea.

The vertical ad format is already big news on Instagram and the social media giant has just announced the launch of its IGTV (Instagram TV) service which allows users to post videos up to 60 minutes in length. Some pundits are already positioning this move as a “YouTube killer”.

With a billion users, Instagram has the critical mass to turn a niche idea into a mainstream event. If this move comes to fruition, it surely won’t be long before producers start focusing on creating bespoke vertical format content. It may then only be a question of time before the parent company Facebook and streaming rivals such as YouTube and Twitter follow the trend.

The idea of the vertical screen may be a little disorientating at first – but how long would it take before it was considered the norm? Could the television on your wall suddenly look as dated as the landline telephone you once owned?

What is more likely to happen is the television will itself be turned on its side and act as a supportive device to the smartphone. To quote the famous Gil Scott Heron song; “The revolution will not be televised.” It may however be “smartphoned”. 

Marissa Camilli
By Marissa Camilli
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