Instagram today announced IGTV, a standalone app for watching long-form vertical video that will also have a tab inside the flagship app. When you log in to IGTV, it will automatically begin playing vertical videos from people you follow, along with personalized recommendations from elsewhere in Instagram. The app will be available on Android and iOS within the next day and within the flagship Instagram app sooner, the company said.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said the app was designed to make it easier to find and watch videos on the mobile phone. He noted that most video apps require you to search or browse through a directory — as opposed to television, where you simply turn it on and start watching. IGTV, on the other hand, will simply start playing video the moment you open it. Among other things, this “lean back” mode could make IGTV a powerful new place for Instagram to put ads.
IGTV will also allow creators to upload video directly to Instagram, a product manager said, representing an effort to turn the app into a home for mobile video to rival YouTube. Videos can be up to 10 minutes long to start, with larger accounts able to post hourlong videos. Over the long term, the company expects to let all users post videos of unlimited length, Systrom said.
There will be on ads on IGTV to start with, but that would be “a reasonable place to end up,” Systrom said. He said there would be a revenue-sharing deal with partners eventually, but not to start.
Instagram’s introduction of 24-hour, ephemeral stories and and direct messaging features were designed to make it a primary communication channel for its users. IGTV represents an effort to expand in a different direction — toward connecting people toward their broader interests. Instagram would increasingly try to both marry personal relationships and interests, Systrom said. “You can’t really get that anywhere else — that unique mix of the two,” Systrom said.
At a morning event that had the look and feel of a late-night rave, Instagram executives announced the launch of the new app. Instagram stars at the event included celebrity Fortnite Ninja, Susie Shu (115,000 followers), Katie Austin (133,000 followers), Bryce Xavier (286,000 followers), Lauren Godwin (550,000 followers), Lauren Riihimaki (4.2 million followers), and Lele Pons (25 million followers). The company also announced today that Instagram now has 1 billion users.
Pons announced that she would launch a new cooking show on IGTV, one of a number of popular creators who are expected to begin making series for the platform. Instagram will not pay her or any other creators to make shows, the company said. Pons said she would continue to post a weekly video on YouTube, effectively hedging her bets. “You never know what works,” she told reporters after the event.
Instagram’s push into video comes at the same time that its parent company, Facebook, is attempting a similar initiative. The company announced new game show features yesterday as part of an effort to revive its moribund live video platform. Facebook is also funding news programming for its own video tab, known as Watch.
Instagram’s push into longer videos is also, in its own way, another jab at Snapchat, which has made similar deals in an effort to turn its Discover tab into a sought-out destination for younger viewers. None has been a breakout hit, but at least some publishers have been encouraged enough with the results to renew their deals. One reason: as they spend more time on their phones, younger demographics are getting harder to reach on television and radio.
The ultimate goal of both platforms is to strike a direct hit at YouTube, the default destination for most people who are searching for videos to consume. YouTube benefits from having a critical mass of creators, a mostly functional program for letting creators make money, and sophisticated algorithms that guide viewers to videos they’re likely to enjoy. (They also have an unfortunate tendency to push people toward extremist content.)
YouTube also benefits from its status as a true destination for video, rather than a tab in an app that people are used to thumbing through quickly to catch up with their friends. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are all searching for ways to get people to slow down and stop thumbing. On Snapchat, that initiative led to sensational headlines and titillating thumbnails.
Instagram is taking a different approach by creating a new app that is a destination for video in its own right. “When you watch longer video, you need a different context,” Systrom said. “We really wanted to separate those two so you could choose which adventure you wanted to go down.”