No More Turning Your Phone Sideways: Instagram Bets on Vertical Video App IGTV

Lele Pons is already posting a lot of video on Instagram for her more than 25 million followers. Now, she'll be a featured creature for IGTV. "I've been creating comedy skits, dance videos, music with my friends for years. I've perfected the one-minute sketch on Instagram, but get ready to see what I have in store for you with IGTV," she says.  (Photo: Courtesy of Instagram)

"Think about it. Today, we still watch videos formatted for a TV on a vertical screen," Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom said this morning, unveiling IGTV five years to the day after launching video on Instagram.

IGTV is a new, separate app for creating and watching long-form, vertical video—although you’ll also be able to watch from within the Instagram app.

Was this a thing you didn't realize you need? Yes, at least, according to Systrom. "We either have to rotate our phone awkwardly," she said, "or watch a tiny version, and that doesn't make much sense, does it?"

Call it a legacy issue, so broadly acknowledged you can watch video of rapper Childish Gambino walking up to a fan in the front row recording his show to turn the phone sideways.

Systrom also takes issue with having to search a directory to find what we want to watch ... on say, YouTube. In fact, IGTV looks very much like an attempt at direct competition to YouTube, not unlike the way Instagram Stories directly copied one of the most popular features of Snapchat.

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IGTV videos won't be limited to one minute, but rather, ten—unless you're a wildly popular creator, in which case, you get a full hour. That's just at launch. Eventually, the plan is to scale up capacity so that everyone has access to unlimited video.

As with all social media, anyone can be a creator, but some are better at it than others. Instagram has made sure to pre-populate IGTV's offerings with power users on Instagram like Bryce Xavier (287,000 followers) and Lele Pons (25.1 million followers). Instagram itself now boasts one billion monthly active users.

"I've been creating comedy skits, dance videos, music with my friends for years. I've perfected the one-minute sketch on Instagram, but get ready to see what I have in store for you with IGTV," Pons said. (For one thing, she's starting her own cooking show.)

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom unveiling IGTV in San Francisco.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom unveiling IGTV in San Francisco. (Photo: Courtesy of Instagram)

So naturally, with longer video, you're wondering what/where/when the advertising will show up. Systrom says there are no ads in IGTV because "right now, we're focused on building engagement," but "that [ads] is obviously a very reasonable way to end up," adding that creators want to make a living. By that, Systrom does not mean Instagram directly paying creators. Translation: influencers will make their own brand deals.

Nothing stops advertisers from creating their own content, and indeed, within hours of the announcement, at least one advertiser sent out a press release announcing its IGTV channel: Benefit Cosmetics, the San Francisco-based beauty brand.

National Geographic has also already announced its plans to engage on IGTV, which raises the question: Is IGTV open to news producers?

"Anyone is welcome to become a creator," said Instagram product manager Ashley Yuki. (There appears to be no kind of partnership or sponsorship with news organizations, which Instagram parent Facebook has experimented with in the past.)

Is IGTV the YouTube killer in what is clearly a proxy war between Facebook (which owns Instagram) and Google (which owns YouTube)? Don't order flowers just yet. With more than 1.9 billion monthly users, YouTube reaches viewers on mobile as well as larger screens.

Imagine an app that loads @jiffpom straightaway when you launch. There's no need to scroll through options, or tap on the search bar. That's IGTV: more like TV than "legacy" social media.
Imagine an app that loads @jiffpom straightaway when you launch. There's no need to scroll through options, or tap on the search bar. That's IGTV: more like TV than "legacy" social media. (Photo: Courtesy of Instagram)

But who's to say viewers will stay stuck on horizontal when they could be watching and creating video that's vertical and filling the screen—as if that's just the new natural order of the universe?

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