Will IGTV Swim or Sink?

On the 20th of June 2018, Instagram launched a new and ambitious move to rival video streaming giant YouTube, but with a twist. Instagram was going to start a new wave of long-form vertical video format, which at first glance appeared to be a sensible evolution seeing most content are already consumed in mobile devices being held vertically. The name of this new platform was IGTV, short for Instagram Television.

Will IGTV Swim or Sink? - Info Trek

IGTV was already the most celebrated kid on the tech block on the very first week of launch. It received a red carpet premiere, something Instagram has not done since 2013[1]. Their launch efforts also included having influencers and celebrities create and share their own videos[2].

But all the glitz and glamour of this new much talked-about “YouTube Killer” was short-lived. Just few weeks after IGTV’s over-the-top launched, number of downloads halved every subsequent week and active users also saw massive drops. While CEO Kevin Systrom is still hopeful that IGTV’s new platform just needs to ride the adoption bell curve before the participation of majority, this writer believes IGTV’s success requires more than just a waiting game.

We Should Not Worry About Declining Downloads

IGTV - Info Trek

Before we move on to metrics and trends that reflect genuine concern, let us first clear out the issue of declining app downloads. While many articles and journalists are scaring the public with steep drop in app downloads, this appears to be a false alarm.

It is because less than a week after the platform was launched, Instagram created a built-in extension to IGTV within the Instagram app in the form of a button. By having that button embedded on the top right of the main app rendered the need for a standalone IGTV app irrelevant. With this argument in place, the metrics of declining app downloads need not be taken as a sign of the platform’s failure. But that doesn’t mean IGTV is doing as well as it hoped, either.

The Old “Build It And They Will Come” Strategy

When Instagram was built, it was the solution to a prevalent problem at the time: a Flickr for mobile devices. When Instagram Stories was introduced, it was able to bridge the gap between young users who valued Snapchat’s ephemerality and their larger Instagram Following. With IGTV though, it’s unproven ground for this team.

The honest fact is that nobody in the world longed for a long-form video platform whose only Unique Selling Proposition is Vertical Orientation. YouTube served the long-form video creation and consumption market for many years, and with such a massive trove of information that it takes more than novelty differentiation to sway users away.

Therefore, Instagram cannot apply their old strategy of “Build It And They Will Come”. Instead they should take lessons from Netflix and Amazon, by investing on original content. This does not mean Instagram should be pouring millions into epic series converted from classic book sagas. They can however, employ celebrities to create a season of short videos. Doing so will help build quality content on IGTV and draw up a blueprint for other content creators to follow. The results can be higher quality content throughout the platform, rather that today’s mass of low quality viral and senseless videos in foreign languages.

If You Want To Sell It, Don’t Hide It

While embedding the IGTV extension within Instagram’s main app allows users to sample the new platform effortlessly, tucking an entire network of videos behind a tiny orange icon isn’t going to help.

What kept users going back to Stories are the round avatars always present on top of Instagram’s app, as a reminder that their friends have a limited-time clip they haven’t watched yet. As users scroll down posts, they will again be reminded to watch their friends’ stories before expiry, and this time time with larger screenshot previews. But there is nothing of that sort for IGTV. In fact, nobody will know what happens in IGTV until they enter that other dimension.

With the growing trend of larger mobile device screens, it is a good idea to add another section to Instagram’s main screen by providing some sort of preview to what’s happening on IGTV.

Also, Instagram is a hashtag platform, in the sense that all posts and Stories as categorized and searchable using hashtags inserted by users. IGTV however, does not adhere to the same law of physics. As a result, searches will only show other accounts, and the Explore section only shows an endless barrage of irrelevant videos we are not interested in.

Will it Sink or Swim?

For the first time in history, the Instagram team will need to learn how to sell a product that already has major market players, and be good at it.

They need to convince content creators and the general public why we should adopt a new video channel when there are ample sources readily available today. And the simple “Because it’s Vertical” message just isn’t adequate.

[1] “For IGTV, Instagram needs slow to mean steady | TechCrunch.” 25 Aug. 2018, https://techcrunch.com/2018/08/25/igtv-views/. Accessed 29 Aug. 2018.

[2] “Instagram’s IGTV video feature will include hour-long … – Daily Mail.” 20 Jun. 2018, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5864955/Instagram-new-IGTV-video-feature-include-hour-long-videos-help-app-challenge-YouTube.html. Accessed 29 Aug. 2018.

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