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Is Instagram having an identity crisis? The pros and cons of IGTV

This article will examine the functional basics of Instagram’s new feature, IGTV. It will explore the opportunities it offers both brands and individuals, and explain how IGTV can be used to engage existing audiences, extend reach, convey core messages and encourage channel growth through increased findability. It also includes a look into the initial doubts surrounding the platform’s newest addition, potential flaws and its place within the market.

A brief history

Instagram started out as an image-sharing platform when it launched back in 2010. Users could simply share square images of #foodporn, #selfies, #travelthrowbacks and #dogsofinstagram, to their heart’s content. The ‘gallery-like’ feeds had a certain aesthetic appeal to social media users who perhaps favoured imagery over text.

The available ‘photo-enhancing’ filters were somewhat over-used, with profiles resembling a highlight ‘reel’, rather than ‘real’, snapshot into users’ lives.

Since then it’s safe to say that it’s come a long way. In 2012 it was acquired by the social network giant – Facebook – for a reported $1 billion USD. The Co-Founder & CEO of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, has subsequently announced that Instagram has grown into a community of 1 billion users. But that’s not all he announced…

Instagram video

It wasn’t until a year after they launched that video content was even introduced to the predominantly-sharing platform. Even the increasingly popular ‘stories’ feature only came into play two years ago.

During the writing of this article, Instagram introduced yet another update, this time on the aforementioned original story feature. First it was gifs, and now it’s the ability to add a soundtrack to stories in a similar format as location stickers. Is this perhaps a reaction to YouTube Music?

It’s no secret that Instagram have previously been accused of ‘borrowing’ aspects of their competitors’ platforms throughout their growth and advances. Instagram Stories, for instance, are suspiciously similar to Snapchat’s signature ‘disappearing’ content, where short videos and images are shared, but only for 24 hours.

Now it seems that they have set their sights on the long-standing video-sharing platform, YouTube.

So, what exactly is IGTV?

On the 20th June 2018, IGTV, Instagram’s brand-new video feature and stand-alone app was introduced to the world. You may have already seen discussion surrounding these four little letters, and perhaps seen early adopters’ videos popping up on your Instagram feeds.

Simply put, IGTV is the latest way for Instagram users to share long-form video content, either directly on the platform via the in-app tab, or in the stand-alone IGTV app. Sounds a lot like Stories, right?
The main difference is that the videos will live on a separate IGTV channel, with an increased time limit of 10 minutes, or up to an hour for those with larger followings.

The creation of mini ‘series’ seems to be the direction that IGTV content is currently taking since its launch, with the home page an amalgamation of brands, individuals and influencers alike. At a time when individuals are moving away from traditional TV viewing, to on-demand content from services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, the app can be viewed as a TV network of sorts.
Kevin remarked on this shift, during the launch announcement, confirming – “Teens are now watching 40 percent less TV than they did five years ago.”

We’ve all been there when Netflix pops up to ask if we’d like to ‘Continue Playing’ and I for one, have found myself also losing hours to the black-hole that is Instagram stories. IGTV looks set to have a similar draw, with the videos starting to play automatically upon opening.

Best practice examples

The brands and individuals who are already successfully harnessing the power of Instagram TV, seem to be following these simple video creation guidelines:

  • Don’t upload horizontal video
  • Invest time in first-rate editing
  • Post videos longer than 60 seconds
  • Record content in line with existing channel aesthetics and audience

Netflix have demonstrated their video skills, while making the most of the extra airtime, with their tongue-in-cheek slow-mo video. BBC Earth are the exception to the rule when it comes to repurposing existing horizontal video. Their infamous Planet Earth II scene of ‘Iguana vs Snakes’, has been expertly edited to look as though it was intended for phone screen IGTVs all along. Louis Vuitton’s debut video for Instagram TV is particularly visually appealing in the vertical format. It was a suggested video on my device but played seamlessly and was expertly edited, so I was instantly drawn to continue watching.

IGTV: a how-to

The desktop version of Instagram is still limited, but to access IGTV within the phone app, you can simply click on its logo located next to the little DM paper airplane.

Video will play as soon as you enter, but as you can see below, there are specific tabs below the search bar for ease-of-navigation. These are titled:

  • You: video suggestions based on the content you usually consume
  • Following: videos uploaded by the creators you already follow
  • Popular: videos that are currently trending
  • Continue Watching: videos that you were watching when you left the app

USPs: Does it have a place in the market?

The vertical orientation of the videos is what differentiates it from existing video sharing platforms, continuing in Instagram’s mission to be the most mobile-friendly social network. Although vertical video as a format tends to be shunned by many, this does mean that it will be a mobile-optimized experience, so perhaps there’s space for both wide-screen YouTube and IGTV content.

How brands, marketers and individuals can use IGTV:

It’s certainly another avenue for users to explore, not only to leverage the platform for further audience growth, but to actively engage their audience with longer content.

  • Extended reach

    The aforementioned ‘You’ tab, will play a similar role to the existing ‘Explore’ tab on the home page, helping brands to increase their reach and audience growth. The ‘suggested videos’ aspect will subtly guide individuals towards content that’s relevant to their interests or trending, highlighting accounts that may be of interest to individuals, but that they do not yet follow.

  • Equal(ish) opportunities

    IGTV allows all users to become creators, regardless of their following size. What’s more, those with a larger following, such as brands and top influencers, can now engage their audience for longer. (well, up to 60 minutes anyway.)

Once a video has been created, the once cossetted ‘swipe up’ feature within stories (which until now has been a privilege for those in the exclusive 10k and above club) is no longer restricted when it comes to the self-promotion of IGTV videos.

  • Increased engagements

The ‘swipe up’ function isn’t the only way to drive more traffic to new content – an increasingly tricky battle against Instagram’s algorithm. Once a creator has uploaded a new IGTV video, a notification will be sent to the top of their followers’ feeds. Admittedly, I have found this more of a nuisance so far, but in practise they should help with increasing views and engagements. (Discover how to turn these notifications off, here.)

The extended video length indicates that not only will audience engagement be at a deeper level, but the brand or influencer’s message is much more likely to be received and actually understood in this long-form format.

  • Extended airtime

    Not only are the videos longer than a simple Instagram story, but the auto-play aspect may also encourage more minutes to be viewed. In theory, by the time an individual has searched for another video, they will have already been subconsciously watching the suggested video in the background and, psychologically, may want to see it through. If the content is good enough, they may be more likely to watch it until the end before selecting their chosen video.

Potential flaws

Despite the advantages of the addition to the platform, there are still a few doubts surrounding its predicted popularity and there are still some initial teething troubles to straighten out.

  • Worth it?

There are currently no ads in IGTV – perhaps a flaw for creators, but welcome relief for viewers. The major drawback to this is that it hits brands the hardest. The repercussion of no adverts is that there’s no direct ability for them to tap into the viewing audience unless they choose to create content. Systrom has not-so-subtly hinted at their eventual introduction to the feature, as it’s “obviously a very reasonable place [for ads] to end up.”

Meanwhile, YouTube is stepping up and even enhancing its ad experience, for both brands and content creators alike. Is this in response to IGTV or in a similar bid to improve user experience and functionality?

Channel memberships are now available, meaning fans can sponsor their favourite channel for as little as 4.99USD a month. They can also now purchase merchandise directly from the platform. The introduction of a new Creative Suite will benefit brands, allowing them to edit their ad campaigns using insights, maximising the effect when rolled-out across the platform. Kelloggs and 20th Century Fox have already taken advantage of this offering, and it won’t be long until others follow suit.

It seems only logical for creators to remain loyal to this platform until the ability to monetize their hard-work is made available within the IGTV app. The incentive for creators to invest time in creating high-quality content increases when they can monetize their work. That said, the ability to get in front of the 1 billion users is attractive, with many influencers’ fan-bases now housed within Instagram.
For any amateurs on the platform wanting to try their hand at videography, IGTV can be seen to provide an environment where almost anyone with a smartphone can create video content. There’s no need for any high-class equipment, and with the help of a few video-editing apps such as PicPlayPost Movie Video Editor, an IGTV video can be created in no time!

  • Save it

From a user-friendly point of view, if you particularly enjoy watching an IGTV video, it can be sent to friends within direct messages. However, should you want to come back to watch it again later, or (shock-horror) show someone in person, it appears there is a lack of a ‘save’ or ‘favourite’ option.

  • Simply superfluous?

The addition of IGTV to Instagram certainly came as an unexpected shock to most users, who were happily posting short-form video clips across stories. Systrom explained the thinking behind it, saying “we really wanted to separate those two so you could choose which adventure you wanted to go down.”
But surely there’s already YouTube for consuming long-form video-content? Is the platform perhaps trying to be something it’s not and juggling superfluous saucers? Is Instagram having an identity crisis?

What’s the verdict?

Those I’ve spoken to for their thoughts on IGTV, seem to be of a similar opinion saying – ‘I haven’t really looked at it if I’m honest’ and ‘what’s that?’ Does this confirm that it is in fact an unnecessary addition that users neither asked for, nor want?

A quick scroll through social channels and this looks to be the general consensus:

Just when I start getting comfortable with using Instagram, they added something that I don’t need. Again.

They add too many new products for a platform built on simplicity. Users cannot keep up and this is another distraction that was unnecessary.

But others are excited by the possibilities now available on the platform and welcome the progression.

I definitely see people using it as an opportunity to develop their personal brands who maybe wish they had got started on YouTube earlier. I don’t see it replacing YouTube but that it will encourage users to just start creating more long-form videos on their phones.

On a personal level, I’m glad that it’s the platform I have invested the most time in for the promotion of my own life and style blog. It’s constantly developing to stay ahead of the ever-evolving social media game and doesn’t look set to get left behind anytime soon.
I see IGTV as being particularly beneficial for those who already film content on their phone. Instead of having to turn the phone horizontally when capturing content for YouTube videos, and then reverting to vertical for Snapchat or Instagram stories, they can now use the vertical content seamlessly across both platforms.

What does the future hold for IGTV?

Instagram has witnessed exponential growth and become a key social media channel in under a decade, making the likes of Vero and DailyBooth a distant memory. Will IGTV replace YouTube? Not likely. YouTube has its focus and does it well – it started out, and remains, a content curating and sharing platform. The history of Instagram is a little less linear.

What was once an image-sharing site, has now turned into an instant-messaging-video-chat-tv-app. Can it keep up with itself?

And more importantly – can its users keep up, or were they happy just using the platform to keep up with their friends’ updates?

The addition of IGTV will certainly cement Instagram as the go-to social site for mobile, but as The Verge agree, we are now in a world where the users hold the power: “competition is crucial to keeping that economy healthy. IGTV is for now a novelty, but how it continues to craft itself around creators will determine its success.” Brands should certainly tap into its ability to extend their reach and encourage engagements, either as creators themselves, or through the increasing power of influencers.

What are your thoughts? Will you be tuning in to IGTV? Comment below.

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