Instagram introduced IGTV, a platform for sharing long-form vertical videos, competing for your internet video appetite with YouTube. This will be a native video sharing platform for all instagrammers and IGTV’s success depends on leveraging the network effects of Instagram, or as I like to say, “Facebook’s Instagram.”
The dual-nature of Instagram’s network
We exercise a sense of exclusivity to our lives as we form relationships with people. Facebook’s aim was to represent this exclusive relationships online and provide every conceivable way to exchange digital content within these pre-agreed confines. But the exclusivity we wanna exercise to our online content is highly subjective, the nature of which is vaguely defined and is crudely labelled as “friendship”. As a result, this exclusivity watered down into irrelevancy as people accepted every friend request that came their way. This made sharing things on Facebook quite uncomfortable for many.
Private accounts is hugely popular among the Faceboook-first social media generation who migrated to Instagram. Now, people got a second chance to define the exclusivity they prefer for their online content. A sense of caution meant they invariably used the Private Accounts feature on Instagram. But mostly they use this exclusivity to largely restrict access based on pre-existing relationships, not unlike Facebook.
But this was very different from how people used to form relationships on Instagram. When it was originally conceived, the message was “follow if you like the content”, common across all content-first platforms like Youtube or Twitter which IGTV directly intends to compete. Private accounts ask the question “follow if you know the person”, very much like Facebook.
I will be exploring this dual-nature of networking on Instagram as IGTV intends to capitalize on the network effects of Instagram.
The distinct methods of discovery coupled with a fixed vertical aspect ratio is where IGTV hopes to have it’s own genre of videos. Different aspect ratios are used by filmmakers as an artistic choice. A wide frame for a cinematic look, a squarish 4:3 aspect ratio for guerrilla filmmaking. But no filmmaker have found a use for vertical aspect ratios even though it has been supported by YouTube for the longest time. All the screens are horizontal, every camera shoots horizontal, your eyes are positioned sideways. Vertical videos are simply not immersive.
So why are vertical videos so popular?
When I used to teach photography in a college art club, I observed new photographers use their DSLR almost exclusively in the horizontal orientation. I myself did that for the longest time as it was ergonomically natural to hold a DSLR that way. As we learnt and became more intentional with our photography is when that reduced.
Point is ergonomics matter and for phones: we naturally tend to hold it vertical. You see the reason why vertical videos got so popular is that average users are not very intentional when creating videos. That’s precisely why stories are vertical because you’re not supposed to handle a lot of cognitive load when posting content that lasts for 10 sec and would cease to exist in 24 hours.
Vertical video is not an artistic choice, but an unintended habit.
IGTV targets its creator community. Creators who are very intentional with the content they share. Vlog is a sub-genre of movies born on the internet sharing real lives as a narrative for a daily series. But even for such a kind of sharing, where vertical videos has been used for, there was this instance where Casey Neistat (the poster boy of vlogging) ridicules his friend Karlie Kloss for mistakenly recording and posting a vlog from a Taylor Swift concert in a vertical orientation. She did that because she ‘forgot’ and later regretted. Once upon a time, Google went as far as allowing only horizontal video to be captured through its camera app. But people hold phones vertically, and Google eventually said: so be it.
So why would YouTubers use IGTV?
For many YouTubers, IGTV is a blank slate to start a new series. To post a different kind of content they wouldn’t normally post on their YouTube channel.
For those who don’t operate vlogging channels, vertical Stories opened up creator’s lives to their fans, of which IGTV is a direct extrapolation. Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) recently uploaded a video of them playing a game in his studio on IGTV. Something he would never upload on his YouTube channel. Youtubers who have wanted to share intimate content like that have typically started a separate vlog channel, like Lily Singh (!!Superwoman!!). But MKBHD has dodged the idea of vlogs until he indulged in such intimate sharing in a long video format on IGTV.
However, in a Q&A video, MKBHD and iJustine said how they see IGTV videos as no longer than 90 seconds. And I agree. I can’t watch Vertical Videos for much longer. It’s not an immersive frame.
IGTV can be a one-stop for all videos which I would characterise as more informal content, content they would’ve posted on Twitter or Instagram previously.
IGTV might provide the blank slate that creators seek to launch new kinds of content without rebuilding their fan bases – though that comes with it’s own caveats.
Following your Instagrammers on IGTV
There’s a pool of Instagrammers who are diversifying into creating internet videos and this native integration insta-ntly ports their Instagram fan base to their new endeavours on IGTV. But one must understand that these people followed their fav creators loving the content that they shared on Instagram – photos/short videos. Creating long videos is a different skill. There’s the mismatch. Hence, there will be disappointments as well as delightful surprises as consumers are constantly poked to check out their fav Creator’s IGTV content.
Discovering IGTV content through Instagram
Convince people to click through to your content in 280 characters or less (as in tweets), or you convince people to ‘swipe-up’ to your content in 10 seconds or less (as in InstaStories). YouTubers have used these methods to direct users to their latest video for a long while. Integrating IGTV, Instagram hopes people are directed to IGTV more than YouTube.
But the ways to discover IGTV content on Instagram is ditto to what creators have already achieved for YouTube. You can discover IGTV through stories or navigate to the profile page, exactly how creators already advertise their YouTube content.
Some distinct ways are designed to bait you into unintentional consumption. The user is constantly baited into clicking through to IGTV by flashing it at the top of the Instagram app. IGTV channel is shown in the same circle and in the same row as highlight stories in the profile page. This clickbait design that they have ported from InstaStories to IGTV appeals to the lazy consumer who unintentionally, addictively consumes a plethora of passable content.
Impart Value, Not Addiction.
One distinct way can be if Instagram integrates discovering IGTV via individual posts. One-such scenario is attaching Behind-The-Scene ‘IGTV videos’ to content shared on Instagram. A short trailer on Instagram to a longer video on IGTV is another one. But Instagram has yet to get around such native integrations.
People’s internet video appetite is monopolized by YouTube. So expect people to be a lot more harsh on IGTV. People can be quite averse to change. These are the barriers that Kevin Systrom (CEO of Instagram) hopes to cross to make IGTV a native user habit. When people access IGTV through the native app!
Discovering IGTV content within the native IGTV App
Discovering content through search is where YouTube has a huge advantage. It’s not just Google’s superior algorithms but people’s trust that they’ll find the video they are looking for in world’s largest video database.
Where IGTV hopes to succeed is recommendations, based on the “knowledge” it has collected about you and who you follow over the years on Instagram.
IGTV is named so for a reason. During the keynote, Kevin Systrom (CEO of Instagram) threw a myriad of TV analogies while describing the product. For example, there’s always something playing (to your liking) when you open the app, just like when you switch on a TV. Either you change the channel or be unintentionally sucked into whatever is playing.
Like it or not, this is how the folks at IGTV intends to be the TV of Generation Y.
Personally, I object to companies trying to feed you content in a binge-state. Netflix CEO infamously said, ”Our biggest competitor is sleep”. Hence, I find myself constantly fighting the decisions made by these companies trying to keep my consumption intentional.
Helping me discover new content with a UI that encourages informed decision, recommendations that nicely sits in the fringes of something different but not completely alien to me is what I hope these platforms’ AI try to achieve.
Following “friends” On IGTV
At best, vertical videos is an informal sharing of lives, a slice of realism that popularised vlogs. If IGTV is the next evolution of Instagram and more accurately, Instastories, it must learn from the core philosophy of Snapchat – Don’t make friends compete for likes, and help maintain a small enough “friends” circle to encourage free, private sharing of content by end users.
I believe IGTV with vertical videos should see itself as an intimate platform where people might feel comfortable sharing long videos with small groups – an informal, intimate video sharing platform. Your friends might finally share their long phone videos online, something no platform has been able to encourage.
IGTV treating itself as an open platform, a public stage, like YouTube, is anti-thetical to the notion associated with vertical videos.
A consumer must exercise decision-making in what they consume to open themselves up to a greater quality content. There is an epidemic of passable content that clogs our algorithmic feeds be it on Facebook, Instagram, and even YouTube. This eventually bores the consumer and hurts the network in the long run, discouraging new, bold creators in the process.
IGTV is an opportunity to create a new healthy community of creators, learning from 10 years of independent content culture. What YouTube or Twitter taught us, is platforms thrive when the priority of the companies is not to cause infinite consumption, but to create new mediums for art. What Snapchat’s encroachment of Facebook taught us is that, not competing for more likes, but encouraging a small online network is essential to continue freely sharing lives.
IGTV and it’s creators must imbibe such philosophies to create a distinct brand for the platform, instead of delivering redundant content and leveraging Instagram for more users and money.