Instagram recently launched IGTV, a long-form video service to exist both as an integrated feature of their main product and a standalone app. The social media heavyweight announced that they’d reached a mind-boggling billion monthly active users, evolving from an ‘instant’ photo sharing platform to a top player in the battle for the monopoly on online video.

While videos on Instagram feeds are still limited to 60 seconds, with 15 second bursts for perishable Instagram Stories, IGTV allows users to stream and post content of up to an hour long on their own IGTV channel.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Teens are watching 40% less TV than 5 years ago, and there are around a billion hours of video content being watched daily on YouTube, signalling an undeniable shift towards online (and on-demand) video. With the average YouTube viewing session lasting 40 minutes, it’s unsurprising that Instagram’s 15-second Stories weren’t viable competition.

In a blog post Instagram recognise that ‘younger audiences are spending more time with amateur content creators and less time with professionals’, but note changes not just in what we watch, but how we watch it.

The age of the online influencer has been some time in the making – I’ve been watching content creators on YouTube for at least the last ten years – but what’s interesting is Instagram’s attention to changes in how we watch content, and the scope for what this could look like in the future.

The future of video is… vertical?

IGTV champions the use of vertical video, commenting on the strangeness (and inconvenience) of watching videos formatted for a television when more content than ever is being watched on vertical smartphone screens.

Instagram has always been a mobile-first platform, aiming to do ‘one thing, and one thing well’ – despite constant ‘they’re trying to be Snapchat/YouTube/etc.’ accusations. As the relationship between mobile and video solidifies it’s unsurprising that IGTV should be the product. Besides, it’s not a coincidence that they reference a decline in TV watched by kids over the last 5 years on the 5th anniversary of video’s initial integration into their app.

Instagram are asking us to rethink everything we know about long-form video. Vertical video isn’t completely new territory – Instagram and Snapchat stories, as well as Vine (RIP </3), have been slowly warming us up to the idea for years – but in many ways we still view films and shows and online video as a predominately landscape space.

Could you see yourself watching a 30-minute vertical drama on your morning commute? Or will this be reserved for the influencer-to-audience content that kids already consume more than television?

What space does IGTV hope to fill?

Instagram profess that ‘anyone can be creative’ on IGTV, acknowledging that kids are ‘spending more time with amateur content creators and less time with professionals’. But kids don’t just want to watch influencers – they want to become them.Since the IGTV launch I’ve seen social influencers grapple with fitting this new app into their offering. When Instagram Stories arrived, content creators had a clear space for low-maintenance video communication with their audience; a YouTube video might take hours to plan, film, edit, and upload, but Stories enabled content creators to reach their audiences in just a few seconds. YouTube channels and Instagram feeds continue to exist as online portfolios of creative work. What does that leave for IGTV? Two ideas:

1. IGTV will keep Instagram Stories from straying too far from their original function, since more and more ‘professional’ Instagrammers are finding ways around the limited functionality to produce more impressive (and therefore, time-consuming to make) content.

2. IGTV will directly rival YouTube, serving both needs of the content creator: to publish high quality, considered content through IGTV, and to communicate with audiences quickly/easily with Stories.

Lots of creators have already jumped on board, and I’ve seen several influencers that I follow hastily re-cutting YouTube videos to upload onto their IGTV channels. Selena Gomez and Petra Collins released a creepy horror short, there were recut trailers of the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movie, and Hey Duggee shared The Stick Song on World Music Day. Then Netflix bestowed upon us an hour-long video of Cole Sprouse eating a cheeseburger. Quality content as always, thanks Internet.

The new normal

Instagram is trying to convince us that vertical video could become the new normal, suggesting that it’s the most natural way for mobile users to watch content.

‘We believe this is the future of video. People continue to spend more time with entertainment on their mobile devices, and we’re making it easier for them to get closer to the creators and original content they love.’

From playing around with IGTV over the past week or two, I think this could take some time. People like YouTube and Netflix because of choice and control that they provide. Currently, when you open up IGTV a video will auto-play, and you must navigate away from whatever has popped up to find what you want to watch. While these ‘swipe away’ features are great for Instagram stories, I’m not convinced by this ‘quick serve’ method of delivering long-form content.

It’s also quite difficult to discover new content outside of accounts you already follow, and trending/personalised video feeds. You can search by account, but as far as I can tell there’s no browsing system in place to help you filter content. IGTV focusses on ‘the creators you love most and already follow on Instagram’. As a new creator on IGTV, you’re going to struggle to be found.

If navigating IGTV became more intuitive, I can definitely see myself incorporating it into my online diet – bus as a supplement to the content I already consume, rather than a replacement. Just what we needed, huh? Another stream of content to keep up with.

Will it take off? Who knows.

The willingness of audience to adopt a new platform will depend on influencers taking it up – but equally, influencers will only flock to a new platform if they can trust that their viewers will go with them. With no ad revenue (yet), it’s unclear what benefits existing content creators will find on IGTV.

But if we can learn anything from a short history of social media platforms, and as Instagram know all too well, users will tell you how they want to use your app. If the app wants to survive, it will adjust itself to best fit this need. 

Posted July 2nd 2018
Steph Rathbone
Steph is Jollywise's Content Coordinator and resident bookworm.