(Original article posted February 27, 2019 via later.com, © 2019)
8 months ago, Instagram announced a new platform that would “change the social video landscape” forever: IGTV.
Standing on a stage with influencers and YouTube celebrities, Instagram founder and former CEO Kevin Systrom declared that it was “time for video to move forward and evolve.”
Vertical video was the future and it was time for everyone to get on board with IGTV, the next big thing and expected rival to YouTube.
But the IGTV hype did not last long, and low views combined with the extra effort of creating vertical video led many creators and brands to abandon ship and write off the channel entirely.
The original IGTV launch partners didn’t last long either, creating only an average of 5 IGTV videos each before leaving to stick with their bread and butter: YouTube.
Despite its initial lackluster stats, some brands have excelled and invested heavily in IGTV production, and Instagram hasn’t given up on their mission to get people to actually watch IGTV videos.
Just last week, Instagram announced that IGTV previews would now appear in the regular Instagram feed, along with videos being shared to Instagram profiles.
Since that change, views on IGTV videos have skyrocketed across the board, increasing by ~300-1000%, providing a strong indicator that IGTV isn’t dead yet.
So, where does IGTV stand now? Who is actually watching IGTV, and what brands are succeeding on the platform?
Will Instagram’s latest push to include IGTV videos in the regular feed be enough to save the vertical video platform?
IGTV: What Went Wrong?
Given the success of Instagram Stories, when IGTV first launched in June last year, expectations were understandably high. But it didn’t quite deliver the “game-changing” experience that many predicted.
Unusually, Instagram has been slow to bring in new features or comment on their new channel’s growth.
So where did things go wrong?
A steep learning curve
Thanks to Snapchat and Instagram Stories, businesses have had plenty of time to get familiar with vertical video. But there’s a big difference between creating a 15-second story in vertical video, and creating a highly-produced 20-minute video with music, transitions, video effects, and more.
This partly explains why IGTV’s numbers have been so low: long-form video content is still new territory for most people.
Even if you have stepped up from the amateur video producer ranks on YouTube, IGTV is a whole new playing field. It’s a steep learning curve and it takes dedicated resources and time to master.
Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom acknowledged how challenging the new format is for brands in an interview with TechCrunch, noting that: “One of the things I like most about [IGTV] is that it’s actually fairly difficult to just take videos that exist online and simply repost them. [It] basically forces everyone to create new stuff.”
This idea of IGTV as a marketplace for fresh content is great, but it also creates barriers. Not everyone is willing to take a leap of faith and spend hours creating unique content for IGTV, especially given the channel’s weak viewership.
And that’s true for professional content creators as well. When we break it down, it’s about effort versus reward: does it really make sense to spend “x” number of hours shooting and editing a video that (probably) won’t perform well and can only be published to one channel?
Lack of monetization options
Money-making and revenue-sharing features on IGTV are non-existent at the moment, giving creators even less of an incentive to join the platform.
Whereas popular YouTubers can make anywhere from $3 to $10 per 1000 video views, Instagram doesn’t pay a dime for IGTV content (which, as we’ve already mentioned, is a lot harder to create).
This is problematic. If Instagram’s goal is to be a vertical video alternative to YouTube, they need to win over both YouTube’s younger audience and it’s biggest stars. But that likely won’t happen until it adds revenue-sharing or other monetization options for creators.
Even IGTV’s original launch partners (a select group of celebrities, influencers, and YouTube personalities) haven’t stuck around long.
Since last June, @kingbach has only published 11 videos on IGTV (7 of which aren’t vertical video and were repurposed from other channels), @ninja and @babyariel have each posted just 5 videos, @kevinhart4real has posted 7 (his last IGTV video was in October), and @katieaustin has posted just 4 videos since IGTV’s launch.
According to Ashley Yuki, IGTV’s head of product, all of these concerns are on Instagram’s radar. “It’s a very important area for us,” Yuki said in an interview with Variety. “It’s super top-of-mind for us because we know it takes a lot of time and effort to create this kind of content.”
Poor search functionality
IGTV is clearly a tough nut to crack for creators, but the app is also lacking from a usability standpoint.
The biggest complaint? IGTV’s search functionality.
Videos on IGTV are shown to users based on their interests, followed accounts, and most popular videos. Systrom likened the experience of opening IGTV to turning on the TV, which is one of the reasons that videos automatically start playing when you open the app.
But unlike turning on the TV, you’re not able to search for shows on IGTV, only channels.
There is a search bar, but it will only show you results for profiles, not videos, and there’s no option to search for content based on genre, topic, or even title!
This makes content discovery next to impossible. If you want to search for a beachy waves hair tutorial, you’ll have to look for hair channels, and then scroll their videos until you (hopefully) find something.
The same is true for playlists on IGTV. At the moment, there isn’t a way to compile all the episodes of a series in a single playlist. As a viewer, this makes finding the content you want to watch unnecessarily difficult.
Let’s say that you want to watch a specific series on IGTV, like @lelepons‘ “What’s Cooking with Lele.” If the creator of that series has shared dozens of other videos on IGTV, finding the videos from that series could be a real headache.
“Episodic content” is already becoming a big trend on Instagram Stories, like @bustle’s “Beauty Call” or @infatuation’s “Restaurant Review Ride-Alongs”.
Adding the ability to create playlists would be useful for IGTV series that carry a narrative from one episode to the next, and they would also make older videos more discoverable.
Disconnect from the Instagram app
One of the biggest reasons for IGTV’s initial low viewership was its disconnection from the Instagram app, which made it difficult for brands and creators to convince their followers to leave the Instagram feed experience in order to watch an IGTV video.
When it first launched, the only way to access IGTV from the Instagram app was by tapping on the small IGTV icon at the top of the home screen.
If you happened to miss that button (which is very easy to do) and avoided downloading the standalone IGTV app, you’d be none the wiser.
It was up to the brands and creators to try and inspire a behaviour change from Instagram users, which proved to be too difficult a task.
It was simply too hard to try and force your followers to watch an IGTV video, and people just didn’t want to leave their feed.
Enter Instagram’s latest power move: showing IGTV previews in the regular Instagram feed.
Just last week, Instagram introduced the option to share 1-minute previews of your IGTV videos to your Instagram feed and profile, and it’s already making a big impact on the channel’s viewership numbers.
For example, prior to the new sharing feature, Later’s IGTV channel received an average of 3k views per video. Our latest video (which we shared to our Instagram feed), has so far received nearly 14k views. That’s over a 300% increase!
And it’s not just us. Since the new sharing feature was introduced, everyone seems to be finding a huge increase in engagement and views on their IGTV videos.
Take @thebucketlistfamily. They averaged around 30k views on their IGTV videos before the update. Their most recent IGTV? Almost 400k views.
The same is true for @sephora. The cosmetics brand averaged around 60 to 80k views per video before the update. Now they’re getting over a million!
Food and Wine averaged about 7k views on their IGTV videos before, and now with the new feature, they are getting 225k+ on the videos that have been posted, compared to about 100k views on an Instagram feed post.
Sharing previews your IGTV videos to your feed and grid makes your content discoverable — something that was truly lacking in IGTV’s structure before the new feature launch.
It boosts the visibility of a video, it’s a better experience, and ultimately it’s easier for your followers to find your IGTV content. And it’s clearly already working to increase views for brands.
The Brands Succeeding on IGTV
Despite its growing pains, IGTV still holds a lot of potential for brands to engage with their followers through video on Instagram. There are thousands of people who use IGTV every day, and many brands are thriving by posting and creating content specifically for IGTV.
Some prominent video creators have continued to invest in IGTV and make it their priority for social video marketing — people like @johnmayer, Lilly Singh (@iisuperwomanii), and Jayden Bartels.
For brands sceptical about IGTV, they only need to look at the businesses who are finding success on IGTV.
Take @thefader for example. The music and lifestyle publisher has shared nearly 60 videos to IGTV, often getting hundreds of thousands of views.
According to Juliana Pache, The FADER’s social media director, in order to get that kind of traction, their team works closely to plan effective rollouts, including optimizing their clips to make it easy for their audience to find the content.
“We encourage the artists we spotlight to share our videos on their social channels, where most of their fans live,” Pache says. “Having artists do this is the most reliable and effective way to get our content in front of audiences that care most.”
Streetwear publisher @highsnobiety has also been a consistent IGTV user and has found ways to optimize their videos to grow their following on IGTV.
“While for YouTube it’s important to have an SEO hook for titling, IGTV is purely a social play, so a captivating headline and thumbnail are really important,” says Brock Cardiner, director of content strategy at Highsnobiety. “Retention is also important and the audience on IGTV seem to prefer shorter video content, circa 2 to 5 minutes.”
Overall, it’s safe to say that opportunities on IGTV do exist for brands and creators alike. But it takes time, consistency, and sharing to your Instagram feed.
IGTV: Only Time Will Tell
As far as Instagram is concerned, IGTV is here for the long haul. And as we’ve already seen from their new sharing feature, even small changes can have a big impact.
For a company with seemingly infinite resources, Instagram has been fairly quiet about IGTV ever since its launch. Perhaps they, like us, were waiting to see how it would take off and how brands and businesses adapted their content to suit IGTV’s needs. Maybe Instagram hoped that IGTV would grow organically and that IGTV would somehow become “cool” on its own.
One thing is clear: the decision to share IGTV videos to the main Instagram feed has resulted in a massive increase in IGTV videos.
Instagram doesn’t tell you how many of those viewers have clicked to continue watching after the 1 minute in their feed, but it’s an encouraging update that has seemed to breathe new life into the video sharing platform.
Only time will tell if it will live up to its promise of changing the social video landscape forever.