Instagram have taken another step away from operating simply as a photo sharing app. ‘IGTV’ will allow users to upload hour-long videos in a move that’s said to be directly challenging YouTube.
Instagram has come a long way in the eight years since its original 7 filter photo sharing incarnation in 2010. The app’s simple interface and functionality helped it battle off competition from similar apps like ‘Hipstamatic’ – which gave users the ability to give their pedestrian phone pictures the sun-drenched, grainy feel of film photography – and it quickly became a phenomenon.
Just two years after it was founded it was bought by Facebook for a reported 1 billion US dollars. In the years that followed a flurry of new features entered the picture, like messaging, short video clips, and ‘stories’ which mimicked snapchat’s disappearing photo function.
Now, Instagram have announced perhaps their biggest change to date; the introduction of one hour video uploads. IGTV or ‘Instagram TV’ was announced this week and will allow users to share extended content, but is this a smart move for the company or does YouTube already have this ground covered?
Content without restraint
With the release of IGTV, founder Kevin Systrom boldly announced that “Video deserves a better home on mobile”. He revealed the motivation behind the move was because, “all the data we have shows that people are spending less and less time in front of TVs, but spending more and more time on their phones”.
Time spent watching television is on the decline, and has been since 2010, in the UK at least. Data from Statista collected between 2010 and 2017 shows a consistent decline in the amount of hours spent watching television in almost all age groups, with the only exception being those aged 65 or over, hardly Instagram’s core demographic.
Instagram’s own data claims that “teens” are now watching 40% less TV than they were 5 years ago. Pair that with the fact that teens on instagram are watching 60% more videos than they were a year ago, you have IGTV to fill in the gap.
Video on IGTV is shown exclusively in vertical orientation, which Instagram say is the natural way people use their phones. To watch content, users won’t have to rotate their device, a move designed to make the user experience as frictionless as possible.
This simplified user interface has been crafted to give the viewers an increased sense of emotional connection to the “creators” or vloggers who upload video content. The idea is that IGTV can create a closer emotional bond between its viewers and creators than other video platforms like YouTube.
But is the answer to a decrease in television watching, and an increase in Instagram video watching, to give users a separate app to watch long-form vertical videos? With IGTV, it is possible that Systrom has provided a solution that no one has really asked for.
Vertical videos are useful for Instagram stories, where clips of the people you follow can be quickly swiped through, without needing to rotate your phone. Keeping the phone vertical allows users to both watch and navigate with ease and also lends itself to interaction; it’s easier to add a quick comment to a video this way, or quickly send it to a friend perhaps, something that’s a little more time consuming when watching in landscape orientation.
But watching video in landscape feels more natural when that video is anything longer than a few seconds. Apart from video shot on mobile phones or specifically for marketing campaigns on social media, basically all forms of video, TV programmes, films, music videos, are all made specifically to be watched in landscape.
At the launch keynote, Systrom also expressed frustration at the idea of having to type in a search before you can watch videos. “current apps make you search or browse a directory to find things you like” he said, “When was the last time you had to turn on a TV and then had to type a search just to start watching?” But just behind him, a giant mock up of the IGTV app showed an enormous “search” bar right in the middle of it.
Systrom also said that “Even once you know what you want to watch, the results can be overwhelming”. This may be true, but it doesn’t sound like IGTV solves the problem of wading through an overwhelming amount of video as Ashley, the product manager of IGTV said at its launch, “the moment you open the app you’re already watching all of the content you love from all the creators you love”. That sounds quite overwhelming.
In theory, being presented with only “quality” content instead of loads of random search results that you’re not interested in, is a good idea. But, in reality, ensuring quality may prove difficult as “creators”, who are now restricted to one hour videos, will reportedly soon be able to upload “content without restraint”. How Instagram will monitor and police quality in that environment remains to be seen.