IGTV Turns One: The Past, Present, and Future of Instagram’s Ambitious Platform

When Instagram first announced IGTV in June of 2018, many didn’t know what to make of the news. While at the time Instagram’s user count was reported to have hit one billion active monthly users, the idea of a vertical-only long-form video platform that had yet to show a potential of monetization had some believing that it could never be successful in its bid to dethrone YouTube as the ruler of video content.

Now, one year on, IGTV has surpassed its initial promise to offer a TV-like experience to its users and has become a valuable video platform in its own right. In order to celebrate its first birthday, we thought we’d give a recap of the year that was, and offer an insight into what we may be able to expect from IGTV in the future.


The Announcement

With the help of a number of star influencers, IGTV was launched by Instagram’s co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom last year at a special event in San Francisco. Citing the shift of teenagers’ attention from traditional television to online creator’s content, Systrom revealed that IGTV would be a standalone app that would target this audience by allowing regular users to upload videos of up to 10 minutes in length with more popular users allowed up to one hour. 

Photo credit: Instagram

Just like turning on the television, there would be a sense of randomness to what would start playing when the app was opened, and rather than flicking through television channels, users would instead flick through, well, users. Perhaps most interestingly, it was announced that only vertical videos would be supported by the platform. With hype well and truly built, the app was launched. 


The Early Days

Despite its initial popularity, it didn’t take long for the early content partners to abandon the platform entirely, with viewing numbers gradually dropping off. It seemed that the major barriers that many regular users faced were that they had little experience creating long-form content. Not only were they asked to do this, but then they had to create content in a vertical format that limited a transferral of videos across other platforms.

Photo credit: Chiara Ferragni

Still, this didn’t stop content creators like Italian influencer Chiara Ferragni and former Vine star Lele Pons from embracing the new platform to great fanfare, both amassing an even wider audience due to their humorous, educational, and intimate videos shared through the app. 


How IGTV Has Been Used

Despite some resistance from users who initially struggled to embrace the vertical format, many still found merits in the restrictions. The value in widescreen comes from the fact that more visual information can be communicated, making it more useful for depicting fast, dynamic action or spectacles.

The simplicity of vertical viewing allows the audience’s attention to remain fixed on a smaller frame, making it perfect for stationary setups and up-close and personal activities like “follow me around” videos and shopping guides. Many beauty and fashion influencers have proven that the vertical format makes for the ideal mobile viewing experience when it comes to tutorials, while some brands have capitalized on the intimacy to portray honest product testimonials.

Photo credit: Laura Noltemeyer

Netflix famously celebrated the release of IGTV by sharing one hour of Riverdale star Cole Sprouse eating a hamburger and has further utilized it to share interviews with stars of its original series. Cooking channel SoYummy has allowed followers to get even closer to its mouth-watering recipes that are compacted into the smaller frame, and Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company has shown how raw user-generated content can be used to connect with their audience in a more authentic way. 

Regardless, while the value in vertical-only videos was certainly displayed, Instagram’s adamance that the vertical-only approach would soon be embraced by users was revealed in time to be unfounded. In time, it became clear that users wanted fewer restrictions. Some eight months after launch, some welcomed changes were announced. 


The Updates

2019 has been a big year for IGTV. In February, Instagram began to show one-minute previews of IGTV content directly in users’ IG feeds in an effort to reignite interest and lure more people to the platform. It worked, with viewing figures rising by 300-1000%. Perhaps it was this new influx of users that gave the team at Instagram a much-needed insight into how audiences interacted with the videos and their viewing habits.

Some three months later, Instagram announced that they would be abandoning the vertical-only limitations and allow horizontal videos to be viewable by turning the screen. This new functionality was quickly adopted by already established IGTV content creators and opened up the potential for users who were already creating videos for platforms like Vimeo or YouTube to repost their same content in IGTV to be viewed by their Instagram followers.

Photo credit: Huda Kattan

On top of this, users could now watch whole IGTV videos without leaving the Instagram app, as well as being able to access content through Instagram’s explore tab. 


What’s Next? 

As more major brands, influencers and users are beginning to trial the benefits of IGTV in building fan engagement with their content, interest in the potential of the platform has undoubtedly been renewed. However, whilst IGTV continues to improve its offerings and attracts a larger creator pool, there is still a long way for IGTV to go in its bid to rival YouTube as the supreme video watching platform.

The most major roadblock lies in IGTV’s lack of potential monetization. With YouTube offering its popular creators a sustainable living from ad revenue in exchange for their content, there are yet to be any opportunities revealed for IGTV creators to be able to make the same kind of living. Considering the amount of time and work that long-form video making entails, this is no doubt a major detractor for many users when deciding which platform to utilize.

But good news appears to be on the way. It is clear that Instagram is entirely aware of this shortcoming and there has been talked that suggests that new ways for creators to monetize their content – whether through advertisements or other rewards – could be introduced in the near future. 

We believe that by addressing this as well as further improving the integration of IGTV content within the main application, Instagram could rival YouTube in the quest to be the undisputed home of user-generated video content. While YouTube has its wealth of experience and a large user base on its side, Instagram’s popularity with younger audiences and its ease of use could be pivotal in ushering in a new and improved age of online content sharing.