From Our NYT Files: Instagram Goes Long. Will You Follow?

From Our NYT Files: Instagram Goes Long. Will You Follow?

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By Jonah Engel Bromwich
The New York Times

From Our NYT Files: Instagram Goes Long. Will You Follow?


Those who make a living through Instagram — a group of influencers who can be critical of developments on the platform — are thrilled about the company’s newest feature, Instagram T.V., announced Wednesday. The feature, which will allow users to stream videos up to an hour long, has already appeared within the app, bringing a whole new mode of entertainment to an environment that already takes up a whole lot of its users’ free time. It will also exist as a stand-alone app for those who want all full-screen video all the time, making it a platform all its own, presenting video after video to you for as long as you can take it. Sam Sheffer, a former tech journalist, has 165,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and only 29,800 followers on Instagram. He said that he still intended to use the new feature. “Everyone spends time on Instagram,” he said. “Every single person is always on Instagram. When you go to YouTube, you’re actively looking for something. Instagram, you’re waiting in line and it’s like, let me just go waste some time.”

One of the platform’s stars who appeared at Instagram’s behest on Wednesday was Bryce Xavier, the model and violinist who’s used his IGTV videos so far to showcase his dancing ability and to talk seriously about bullying. He would not comment on the financial arrangement that led to his appearance at Instagram’s San Francisco office on Wednesday, where he gushed about the new feature onstage. (The event, which was heavily delayed, was streamed live from San Francisco to other cities where journalists and Instagram employees gathered — and waited — to watch the announcement.) Mr. Xavier was really excited about the app’s emphasis on vertical video. “For a lot of our fan base, the simplest things in a sense can be kind of difficult for them,” he said. “Just trying to turn your screen to look at another platform, some people might see that as kind of difficult. It’s easier to have something made specifically for a phone.” Bryan Lanning, 28, a YouTuber whose channel, Daily Bumps, has 3.4 million subscribers, said that he viewed IGTV as a new market to explore, one where it would it be easier to gain a following of younger people. “We’re going to see what kind of brands are hopping on board, what the monetization policies are,” he said. “The cool thing, all of that has to be established for the first time just like it was with YouTube.”

Mr. Lanning’s wife, Missy Lanning, 28, has a bit more than half a million followers on Instagram. On Wednesday, she posted her first IGTV video (called “Our first IGTV video!”), in which the couple asked followers what they wanted to see. “It’s a completely new concept so it’s like, it’s different,” Mr. Lanning said in the video. “I want to be able to kind of like take you with me and maybe even be able to upload throughout the day?” Ms. Lanning said, imagining the content possibilities. Celebrities and media brands quickly took advantage of the new feature. Kim Kardashian West posted a two-minute plug of her KKW pop-up beauty shop in Los Angeles. Selena Gomez released a short horror video directed by Petra Collins, who has 769,000 followers on Instagram. And New York Magazine, BuzzFeed and other media companies released dozens of videos on the platform. Another influencer who appeared at the event, Katie Austin, who dispenses recipes and fitness tips on her account (usually on a beach in head-to-toe athleisure), said that she planned to release two to three videos a week, mostly serialized cooking and fitness shows. She expected IGTV to alleviate the difficulty of coaxing fans to follow her from the app to YouTube, where her subscriber base is much smaller than the 141,000 strong who follow her on Instagram. She would not disclose if Instagram paid her to appear at the event. “I was saying all day yesterday this was top three best moments of my life,” she said. “I feel like this is really going to change a lot in the social media world, and social media is one of the most important things in any industry.” Instagram would not comment on any financial arrangement it had made with those who appeared at the event. Instagram said it has not yet decided how and when it will monetize IGTV. Those interviewed did not seem concerned.

Businesses were also eager to take the new platform for a test drive. Laurin Hicks, 29, an associate director of digital brand marketing at Benefit Cosmetics, said that IGTV would be an easy transition for the brand, which already posts videos on the grid and Instagram Stories. “This is going to be helpful,” she said of the feature. “This long-form video outlet will allow us to be a bit more curated and even episodic in telling our brand story. We’re going to need to produce more content, but in the scheme of things it’ll let us tell our story in a more 360-degree way.”
“This is a huge opportunity for any sized creator to grow,” said Kent Heckel, primarily a YouTube vlogger who has been critical of the company in the past. He said that Instagram was the only platform big enough to take on YouTube and that it had a natural advantage on the phone. He expects many faithful users of that platform to gravitate to IGTV, where highly produced, glossy videos have already sprung into rotation. Creators said that the key difference between IGTV and YouTube was that, on the Google-owned video platform, users sought out videos directly. Instagram, on the other hand, allowed for their videos to be discovered spontaneously, and the seamless autoplay will make it even more difficult. The vertical video format, which Instagram has emphasized as a selling point, was popularized by Snapchat, which IGTV seeks to supplant. Instagram reported last year that users under 25 spent more than 32 minutes a day on the app and that those 25 and older spent more than 24 minutes a day, numbers that an independent analytics company, App Annie, said were consistent with its findings.