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Mobile Video With a Vertical Hold

Verizon communications created go90 under the impression that smartphone users are apt to tilt their phones horizontally to stream video.

A Brooklyn, N.Y.-based video startup has a different idea — that there’s a bigger, better future for “mobile-first” video that leans heavily on the vertical aspect ratio.

That company, called Dreams, is taking that idea to task with last week’s debut of a TV network/app tailored for iPhones and Android smartphones that features a swipe-based interface and licensed and original content that has been converted or developed natively to be viewed vertically.

“For us the core of the idea is, what would TV look like if we invented it today from scratch?” Tom Bender, cofounder of Dreams Media, said.

While there’s been plenty of action involving TV Everywhere apps and over-the-top video services, Dreams believes that many lack strategies that focus on the nuances of how consumers use smartphones.

Mobile video is “where all the growth is,” said Bender, an executive most recently with Google and responsible for new mobile ad formats on the DoubleClick team. “Everyone holds their phones vertically. It’s like holding a glass of water. It’s just so much more comfortable.”

Recent data suggests he’s right about the future of mobile video. Ooyala, the online video publisher owned by Telstra, found that mobile devices represented 56% of all video starts by the end of 2016, led by smartphones. It predicts nearly 60% of all video will be viewed on mobile devices by the end of Q1 2017.

Dreams, which was founded last fall, introduced a beta version of its mobile TV service in November, following up with a commercial launch on Android and iOS last Tuesday (March 28).

The basic idea is to offer a free, ad-supported service that launches its video feeds once the app is open without logins or any added friction, and to deliver an experience that’s as simple as turning on a traditional TV.

“When you turn it on, there are no menus,” said Bender, who cofounded Dreams with former Google and Instagram executive Greg Hochmuth. “You’re immediately seeing full-screen video.”

The beta version of Dreams didn’t feature programming categories, but the commercial version adds minimalist genre labels, such as fashion, music, comedy and history. Users can also swipe up to see a description of the video along with a link to the content partner.

Dreams started on the technology side by focusing on the user experience, but it is now spending more time and effort securing and developing content for its platform.

More than 100 content partners are on board, according to Dreams, including Videofashion (a service that covers runway shows), Reuters, the Associated Press, Bric TV (a nonprofit cable network in Brooklyn focused on documentaries) and such independent music labels as Ghostly International.

“We’ve been trying to test the whole gamut of different content types,” Bender said, adding that live news on Dreams, adapted from live feeds sans graphics, has been one of the service’s early hits.

Dreams is being programmed through a manual/automated hybrid. It will manually insert live programming (such as coverage of press conferences) in tandem with an algorithm that optimizes what’s featured on the platform based on watch time and content popularity. It has also been testing some live productions, including a morning show based on the news of the day.

Dreams is also seeking out more premium content, but hasn’t announced anything with traditional cable TV channels.

Dreams is eager to adapt existing content to the vertical format and “revitalize it for the phone,” Bender said. The company has built a process that enables the service to take a show offline and convert it, shot by shot, he said. While that might not work well with some live feeds, it could open the door to more content options.

Bender’s vision is to make Dreams a free, ad-supported service (it launched without the advertising component turned on). But he also sees it becoming a strong, complementary platform for video discovery, allowing users to access a curated collection of videos and perhaps connect with the producer of that content if they want to go deeper — or maybe even subscribe to a service.

“I’m confident that advertisers will have vertical video creative because of the growth of that inventory on this platform,” Bender said.

A major challenge Dreams faces is getting consumers to download, install and use the app — and to get them to keep coming back.

Regarding re-engagement, Dreams has added an opt-in notifications capability to alert smartphone users about breaking news. A user who taps the alert will be taken to the live feed.

To promote its content, for example, Dreams is working with a local bookstore in New York to promote and stream author talks.

Early findings show the audience for Dreams content ranges in age from 22 to 35, evenly split by gender.

Dreams currently has four full-time employees and also works with a group of production freelancers. It’s not currently seeking funding.

“Our thinking is we’d like to maintain control for as long as we can,” Bender said. “We consciously wanted to bootstrap it and see if there was something interesting there. We’ve been really encouraged by the early engagement.”

Content shot in the vertical format is watched, on average, five minutes longer than other content offered by Dreams, he said.