VENN Dives Into 9:16 Video Production for TikTok at E3 2021
Gaming-lifestyle network is producing E3 content for TikTok’s aspect ratio
Since launching in August 2020, VENN (Video Game Entertainment and News Network) has prioritized appealing to the younger-skewing gaming audience. The “first 24/7 gaming, esports, and entertainment network” is taking its efforts to the next level at the E3 show (held virtually June 12-15) by serving as exclusive streaming partner of E3 on TikTok.
As one of the most Gen Z-friendly social-media platforms, TikTok provides VENN with an opportunity to serve younger esports fans and gamers with more-personalized and -targeted content. However, TikTok’s 9:16 aspect ratio creates new challenges for VENN, which produces the majority of its content in 16:9 from its Burbank, CA, studios. “Everything is unique when producing for TikTok,” says VENN Co-CEO Ariel Horn. “The biggest challenge with producing social content is ensuring that it matches the style of the platform. In the case of TikTok, video is 9:16 vs. the other way around, we are working to keep the native aspect ratio intact while inserting traditional 16:9 content from the E3 pool feed.”
After TikTok Success at Blast Premier Events, VENN Looks To Grow at E3
TikTok has recently been piloting live long-form video on its platform, and VENN partnered with the social-media up-and-comer on coverage of a CSGO esports tournament with Blast Premier earlier this year.
“The results exceeded our expectations,” says Horn. “We had 80 million views of our channel over the weekend, thousands of comments, and strong virality.”
VENN had already signed a distribution media partnership with E3 and Paragon (the production group behind this year’s show) and was able to engineer a deal to become the exclusive streaming partner of E3 on TikTok.
On June 12, VENN began live-streaming its traditional 16:9 E3 feed to its linear distribution partners (Samsung TV Plus, Roku, Xumo, Vizio, Plex, STIRR, DistroTV, Local Now, and LG channels) along with a customized feed to TikTok Live. Each day of programming concludes with a live Post Show that recaps and analyzes the day’s announcements, offers interviews with game developers, and indicates what to expect from E3 for upcoming days.
Producing 16:9 Content in a 9:16 World
Throughout the event, VENN is delivering its live 16:9 E3 feed to TikTok Live in a new custom integration setup specific to TikTok live 9:16 formatting, in which rotating graphics are placed below the 16:9 video frame at the top. Horn says his team opted to use the extra space under the video to show rotating graphics that help orient the short-form audience and keep them interested in what is happening currently and also later in the broadcast.
“One of our biggest challenges in feeding TikTok as a primary feed is the need to split our NOC [network operations center] so that we can continue to deliver 16:9 for our linear channels but also send 9:16 for TikTok,” says VENN EVP/GM Jeff Jacobs. “Managing two types of incoming content [as well as] the different shapes and sizes of graphics can be very difficult. This was not without its engineering challenges, but we were able to figure it out and are really excited about doing more [programming on] TikTok moving forward.”
Jacobs is well-versed in the art of 9:16 productions, having helped to lead the NBA’s “Vertical View” productions using cellphones as cameras at the 2018 and 2019 NBA Summer League. He likens the task of managing both aspect ratios to the transition from SD to HD in the 2000s and says he expects vertical-video production to continue to grow. He adds that VENN will continue to deliver 9:16 content to TikTok during its coverage of PUBG tournaments in the coming weekends.
“We’re really producing [the TikTok feed] with the younger viewer in mind; it has a very different graphics palette and quicker-cut editing,” Jacobs explains. “From the technical side, we have brought in additional graphic artists and 3D animators and have invested in additional tech to help us in reformatting for our dual feeds. It has been a significant investment in both time and resources.”
TikTok Content Customized for Gaming-Centric Audience
In addition to showing the linear 16:9 feed on its live TikTok feed, VENN is also creating traditional 9:16 TikTok video segments using mobile devices. VENN is producing a variety of content, ranging from E3 coverage and recaps in 60-second “speed runs” to meme-ified content, banking on trending the sounds and tags loved by the TikTok community.
“We hope to be trendsetters by being the first to clip off those special moments that E3 always seems to have, like the iconic — no, ‘breathtaking,’ — moment from E3 2019 when Keanu Reeves made a surprise appearance,” says VENN producer Marla Macarr. “Those are the types of moments we hope to capture and share with our audience.”
She acknowledges the reality of gaming audiences’ differentiating from platform to platform and says that played a major role in determining VENN’s direction for its E3 coverage.
“When appealing to what it means to be a gamer,” she explains, “the philosophy may be universal, but the delivery of that philosophy differs from TikTok to YouTube to Twitch. We endeavored to creatively construct a Post Show that borrows from traditional linear formats but caters to TikTok culture.”
Looking at examples of similar shows across channels, VENN noticed that the framing of these feeds was largely a conventional 16:9 feed forced into the vertical frame of TikTok.
“We wanted to shift this, understanding that part of the attraction and engagement on TikTok comes from the ‘self-style’ vertical look,” says Macarr. “So we flipped the script and built a feed that would be 9:16 as opposed to 16:9, which we firmly believe helps engrain the narrative into the TikTok native platform.”
Horn notes that the gaming community on TikTok is already well-informed and educated on everything gaming, so VENN wanted to avoid simply regurgitating information they already knew.
“The gaming lifestyle sector of TikTok favors opinion pieces over the straightforward editorial pieces that appeal on other platforms,” he explains. “On Instagram, coverage could be highlights of big announcements, but, for TikTok, we want to frame our programming so that the opinions of our hosts prompt a conversation amongst our audience. Our chief objective is engagement with viewers, so that, while we have discussions live within our Post Show, we are also engaging with viewers commenting on the feed to drive a sense of community.”
VENN’s coverage of E3 concludes today with its fourth day of coverage (beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET). The one-hour live Post Show kicks off at 8 p.m. Watch it all on TikTok at @watchvenn or watch the VENN linear feed on Samsung TV Plus, Roku, Xumo, Vizio, Plex, STIRR, DistroTV, Local Now, and LG Channels.