Instagram takes on YouTube with IGTV: What you need to know

21 Jun 2018

Kevin Systrom launching IGTV. Image: Instagram

Instagram’s move into long-form video will really set the cat videos among the pigeons and algorithms.

Even though Instagram’s price tag in 2012 was far less than what Facebook paid for WhatsApp just two years later in 2014, it is hard to deny that the photo-sharing site has a certain social cachet that even Facebook must now yearn for.

And now, more than halfway through 2018, Instagram is embarking on a whole new chapter and is taking on YouTube with a long-form video service called IGTV.

‘By 2021, mobile video will account for 78pc of total mobile data traffic’

Users will be able to post videos up to one hour long. This is a considerable increase from the current one-minute limit.

It will also be a compelling battle to watch as Instagram can draw on a community of so-called influencers as well as disenfranchised YouTube vloggers upset with changes that Google-owned YouTube has been making to its algorithms and revenue-sharing plans.

How and when can I get access to this new service?

IGTV will be accessible from today from a button inside the Instagram home screen above Stories. It will also come with its own standalone IGTV app on iOS and Android from today (21 June).

True to Instagram’s origins and purpose, IGTV will be mobile-first and is built for how users actually shoot video on their smartphones: vertical and full-screen.

Why is Instagram doing this now?

Screenshots of IGTV

Image: Instagram

Video is where it is at. YouTube is expanding its focus on premium content and paid service while Netflix wipes the boards with traditional broadcasters.

Just like how Instagram pipped Flickr by doubling down on the smartphone as the primary camera of our lives, it is once again doubling down on the smartphone’s video capabilities to achieve the same effect.

“We are re-envisioning mobile video with a new standalone surface that features longer videos and easy discoverability through channels, all in a vertical format that sits upright, in the palm of your hand,” said Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom.

“We’re evolving with the times; these days, people are watching less TV and more digital video. By 2021, mobile video will account for 78pc of total mobile data traffic. And we’ve learned that younger audiences are spending more time with amateur content creators and less time with professionals,” said Systrom.

Put simply, Instagram is making a calculated bet on something that is quite obvious but which was ludicrously overlooked by players like Twitter when it shuttered short-form video platform Vine.

But will it be cluttered up by those darned influencers?

Screenshots of IGTV

Image: Instagram

There is no doubt that Instagram has been courting vloggers and celebs to create content for IGTV but primarily it will be about the users.

It will come with navigational aids such as finding personally recommended videos, popular videos or creators they are following.

“Just like turning on the TV, IGTV starts playing as soon as you open the app. You don’t have to search to start watching content from people you already follow on Instagram and others you might like based on your interests,” Systrom explained.

“You can swipe up to discover more – switch between ‘For You’, ‘Following’, ‘Popular’ and ‘Continue Watching’. You can also like, comment and send videos to friends in Direct.

“Also like TV, IGTV has channels. But, in IGTV, the creators are the channels. When you follow a creator on Instagram, their IGTV channel will show up for you to watch. Anyone can be a creator – you can upload your own IGTV videos in the app or on the web to start your own channel,” Systrom said.

What will this mean for brands and creators?

Well, essentially, it’s a whole new market. Instagram is reaching out to a whole generation of people who were born with the ability to shoot and record video on smartphones.

Systrom has told press that there will be no ads on IGTV at first but this will obviously evolve to enable creators to make a living off the platform.

By creating a vertical video space as opposed to the horizontal world of YouTube, Instagram is appealing to mobile video natives.

To make longer form videos stick like glue and capture a time-poor audience, Instagram will need to craft editing tools to enable creators create slicker mobile-first videos.

At present, Instagram influencers make their money by partnering with brands. But for vloggers and other media looking to monetise through IGTV and mobile-first, the ball is really in Instagram’s court on this one.

Another challenge will be how and if IGTV will be moderated and if brands will be happy for their ads to sit alongside a motley crew of fire-and-forget user-generated videos. And, unlike its parent company Facebook, Instagram will need to be on its toes to avoid becoming a platform for fake news or other forms of objectionable content.

Instagram is growing up and wants to take on YouTube. It is correct in its hunch about vertical being the natural format for video natives who eschew big screens for mobile devices. But it will be hard to avoid some tough lessons on the road ahead.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years