Best Video Formats for 2021

Video content is key to engaging users in nearly every industry. Marketers are just beginning to explore the possibilities that this compelling, highly visual medium has to offer.

According to a Cisco report, 82% of all consumer internet traffic will consist of online videos by 2022. That’s 15 times more video data traveling through the world’s web infrastructure than in 2017.

That data – and the way it is encoded and transmitted  – presents a demanding barrier to entry for non-technical marketers who are just stepping into the world of video. There are dozens of digital video formats out there, each with its own share of visual characteristics and technical compatibilities. Choosing the wrong one can lead to hours of frustration, but nobody tells you what the right one is.

That’s because every format was designed to meet a specific goal.

Finding the right video format for your digital marketing campaign means identifying your goals and then using a format that helps you meet those goals.


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What are video formats and how do they work?

Before diving into the 8 best video formats for digital marketing and looking at how each one can help (or hurt) your video marketing campaign, we need to establish exactly what video formats are and what they do.

First, we’ll need to address a few terms:

  • Digital container formats are what most people talk about when they say “video format”. Examples of digital container formats for video include MKV, MP4, and WMV. Every three-letter file extension in your computer refers to some kind of digital container format, from Microsoft Word’s “.doc” to your music library, which is almost certainly dominated by the “.mp3” format.
  • Codecs are the tools used to compress and decompress digital video data. The term is short for “compression-decompression”, which is what it does to the video file data contained in the container format to make it playable. The best example is H.264, the most popular standard for high definition consumer video.

If you’re already lost, don’t worry! Containers and codecs are extremely complex technologies. There is no need to understand any of the underlying technical magic going on under the hood—especially if you work with a user-friendly video hosting platform.


Video containers and ketchup: A useful Analogy

Think of video formats and codecs like text publications. Literary novels, glossy magazines, sales brochures, and candy wrappers are all examples of publications that contain words and images.

You could print Merriam-Webster’s New International English Dictionary on fast-food ketchup packets, for instance. But you would either have to make the text unimaginably small, or print a single definition on nearly half a million ketchup packets. Your readers will not appreciate it, no matter how much free ketchup you give them.

Similarly, you could create a comprehensive user tutorial and buying guide in an uncompressed, high-fidelity format. But if the resulting file takes up half of your computer’s available disk space, there won’t be much you can do with it, marketing-wise.

It’s more likely that you need to create a video small and lightweight enough to load quickly on a web browser. Compressing the original video data into a manageable format will make that happen.


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The Top 8 Best Video Formats for Digital Marketing in 2021

Fortunately, differentiating between the most popular video formats is not hard. Every video file on your computer has an extension telling you exactly what format it is, and every video platform will tell you what formats it accepts.

The following 8 video formats are among the most widely used in today’s video marketing landscape. Familiarize yourself with each of them to get a headstart on your marketing campaign:

1. MP4

The MP4 format is one of the most universally compatible formats available to video marketers today. First introduced in 2001, it became extremely popular thanks to its ability to maintain acceptably high video quality while considerably reducing file size.

It achieves this by identifying and throwing away redundant data that most video data contains. For example, it takes advantage of the fact that in most videos, the likelihood of a single color pixel being surrounded by similarly-colored pixels is high. The MP4 encoding process finds ways to group blocks of similarly colored pixels together and process them at once, reducing the sharpness and color depth of images slightly in the process.

2. WMV

Microsoft developed the WMV file format specifically for its Windows-based media players. The WMB compression method is better than MP4, making it a popular choice for online video streaming. It reduces video file size more than that MP4 by applying panning, transition, and timing effects to video data during playback.

The main drawback to WMV is the fact that Apple products do not natively support it.

Mac users and iPhone owners can still play these files by downloading the Windows Media Player app, though. Marketers might have a hard time asking potential leads to download an app just to view a video, though.

3. WebM

Google’s WebM is an open-source video format. This means that the underlying technology that makes it work is freely available for the public to see, use, and improve upon. Google designed WebM specifically to work with HTML5, making it an ideal choice for browser-based videos that need to play on any device.

One of the strengths of WebM is that it does not demand a great deal of computer power to compress or decompress video data. Since page speed loading time is so important, WebM makes a strong case for digital marketers who want to embed video content to their web assets.

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4. AVI

The oldest video format on this list, AVI came out in 1992. It uses less compression than other video formats, resulting in larger files than the more modern choices on this list. It has maintained its popularity due to its versatility. It is compatible with Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and most web browsers, and provides high-quality video.

The main downside to choosing AVI is the fact that AVI files tend to be large.

It is acceptable in cases where video content might be shared on a physical medium (like a flash drive), but not ideal for streaming or downloading.


The AVCHD format is a high-quality video format designed for digital camcorders. Panasonic and Sony developed this file format specifically for their products, making it an ideal format for video content creators who own and use camcorders made by these two companies.

AVCHD uses the same image compression technology that MP4 uses. It is compatible with nearly any device or platform that accepts MP4 files, but it does not necessarily offer backwards compatibility. Not all MP4 files can play on AVCHD players.

6. FLV

FLV is the video file format of choice for Adobe Flash Players. These files tend to be very small, making them ideal for use over the Internet, particularly in cases where you are not sure the recipient will have access to a high-speed connection.

The main drawback to using FLV is that it isn’t compatible with many mobile devices, including iOS devices. Also, search engine crawlers do not recognize FLV files, which means that using them won’t add to your search engine optimization strategy online.

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7. MKV

The Matroska video file format incorporates audio, video, and subtitles in one place. MKV is one of the most flexible and universal file formats around. As a non-proprietary format, it is also very accessible. A growing user community maintains it and keeps the format updated with the most current technical specifications.

The primary downside to MKV is that it uses a more complicated compression process.

MKV files undergo a more complicated compression process than AVI files do, giving them a larger overall file size. However, the ability to include your entire video, multiple tracks of audio in several languages, subtitles, and metadata in a single file can make up for these shortcomings.

8. MOV

Apple’s MOV is one of the most popular video formats for high-quality content. Like MKV, it can contain video, audio, and subtitles in a single file. Unlike MKV files, MOV files are designed to work specifically with the QuickTime player—users who don’t have QuickTime will have to download it to open your MOV file.

MOV is a very web-friendly file format that offers high-definition video performance in a small file size. The only caveat is that your web environment must revolve around QuickTime in order to make use of this file format.


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Your video hosting platform matters

Many video hosting platforms have taken great pains to keep up with changes in the video content creation industry, but not all of them. Content creators need to pay close attention to the compatibilities their tools and providers offer them, or risk losing time and money to preventable file format issues.

Even the largest video hosting platforms do not universally accept all video formats. Cincopa is a forward-thinking video hosting platform that guarantees compatibility with all video formats, and not just the top video formats. Partner with our team to ensure compatibility with past, present, and future file formats so you can focus on what you do best—making great content.


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Originally published on June 3rd, 2020, updated on January 7th, 2021
The Blog

Best Video Formats for 2021

by Austin Jesse Mitchell time to read: 6 min