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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Will IGTV deliver for publishers?

July 19, 2018 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

With a new platform comes the recurring decision for skeptical publishers: How much should they care? And in the case of a new platform from Facebook, there’s every reason to be wary.

Still, publishers must consider the new Instagram TV (a.k.a. IGTV) video app because of two big reasons: 1) Instagram’s very large active user base of 1 billion; and 2) the chance to reach a younger audience via video.

IGTV launched last month as a vertical video version of YouTube, with users able to upload pre-recorded video up to 10 minutes long – or up to an hour for the coveted influentials and those with large followings. Every Instagram user has their own IGTV channel to post this content. For a generation increasingly eschewing linear TV for digital streaming options, it’s yet another way to consume and create video.

Indeed, IGTV puts Instagram in direct competition with YouTube, which has 1.9 billion monthly logged-in users and has long been a destination for video creators. It also competes with its parent company Facebook, which has been boosting its own viewing platform, Facebook Watch. Whether publishers can reap the financial benefits of this new form of production and consumption, though, largely depends on opportunities for monetization. And right now, there aren’t any video ads. Plus, publishers will have to produce programming for yet another platform, possibly leaving IGTV as a place for experimentation and not much more.

Building a Younger Fanbase

At its launch party for IGTV, Instagram cited data that teenagers are watching 40% less TV than they did five years ago. According to a survey by Trendera that was commissioned by video producer Awesomeness TV, 71% of Generation Z say their mode of entertainment consumption is streaming — with 71% also saying YouTube is the best place to watch longform content, and 75% saying Snapchat is the number one platform for staying connected and informed.

If Instagram can marry the Snapchat and YouTube worlds well with IGTV, it can be a prime destination to entertain a younger fanbase that’s used to viewing vertical video, and prefers the direct interaction Instagram offers. For YouTube stars looking to gain younger followers and wanting to take advantage of Instagram’s swipe-based search that makes their videos easily discoverable, it makes sense to experiment with IGTV. And because influentials earn most of their money with brand marketing, they have nothing to lose. So even if Lilly Singh might actually turn to Twitter to announce hiccups with loading content to IGTV, it makes perfect sense that she’s on IGTV.

Whether IGTV will become the primary mode people view other kinds of entertainment, though, is another story. Part of the beauty of YouTube’s horizontal viewing experience is that it is the place where linear TV can become digital. That’s why it’s become a prime spot to watch that late night news clip or music video. And as Wired’s Louise Matsakis and Lauren Goode pointed out, watching video on YouTube isn’t just an isolated personal viewing experience — it can also be social, in that people can play YouTube video on a television or play it out on a computer monitor for friends. “It’s hard to gather around a phone to watch vertical video and even more awkward to [broadcast] one onto a TV,” they wrote.

Publishers Take Note, and Take Chances

For advertisers and brands already turning to Instagram stories, IGTV seems like a natural destination for longer content. However, there’s the risk of looking too stuffy, stilted or worse: an infomercial. News outlets, meanwhile, can use IGTV to release more experimental video stories that can’t fit into Instagram Stories’ one-minute time limit. BBC News, BuzzFeed, Sky News, Vice, The Economist, and Vogue are all early adopters.

But at this point, their IGTV content is a mixed bag. BuzzFeed has been re-posting content from its other social platforms, The Economist is trying its hand at airing short documentaries, and 12 different BBC accounts are funneling content into the BBC’s IGTV channel. The way publishers experimented with Facebook Live comes to mind here.

Although many publishers also had financial partnerships with Facebook to use Live, after a while, the initial excitement at a new method of distribution waned to the reality of resources. Much of that has to do with the fact that for social content to succeed, it has to be customized for the platform — and many outlets just didn’t have time to cater content for Facebook Live. While publishers like the BBC are seeing some success with IGTV, they’re also realistic that we’re still in its early stages.

“We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel, as we want to test the platform and see if it works for us,” Ciara Riordan, BBC News’ deputy social news editor, told the Press Gazette’s Sam Forsdick.

The consensus among publishers at a recent roundtable discussion at CUNY gets closer to the truth: It makes sense for publishers to experiment with IGTV, especially if they can repurpose content from elsewhere and the financial stakes are low. But for IGTV to be worth it, the financial benefits have to be high. Otherwise, IGTV must show itself as a game-changer in attracting new audiences. And so far, neither are true. Instagram has said ads will eventually come to IGTV. But with no way to currently monetize directly from the platform — and the dominance influencers already have on the attention economy — it’s no wonder that publishers, even if they can attract younger audiences, are fine taking a wait-and-see approach to IGTV.

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