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Why Can’t Instagram Get Anybody to Care About IGTV?

Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram, announces IGTV on June 19, 2018. Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Instagram pulled out all the stops when it announced IGTV to the world in June. Though the platform’s hub for longform video content — think YouTube, but with intentionally vertically-oriented video — was anything but a surprise given all the leaks leading up to its launch, Instagram threw celebrations around the world to introduce people to its newest feature. In New York, this translated to sitting in the company’s new Manhattan HQ and waiting several hours for a glitchy livestream of Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s co-founder and then-CEO, onstage in San Francisco. Cotton candy was served in Champagne flutes. This was all a little over three months ago and chances are good, if you’d even heard anything at all about IGTV, that was the last time you heard about it. And, if you’re Instagram, that’s a problem.

The company launched IGTV with the help of a handful of creators who already boasted significant followings on the platform, hoping that their fans would follow them: LaurDIY with 4.6 million followers, KingBach with 16.4 million, and JiffPom, a dog with 8.9 million followers. In addition to their Instagram followings, many are, first and foremost, YouTubers. Instagram is stepping on YouTube’s turf with IGTV, so working with creators popular on both platforms makes sense. (It’s a turf that YouTube has proven is rife with ad money, the reason why getting IGTV right is so important to Instagram and, even more important to its parent company, Facebook.) Those creators, ideally, would be able to bring their fans from both YouTube, and traditional Instagram, over to IGTV. Scott Fisher, founder of Select Management Group — the digital talent management agency that represents, among others, LaurDIY — said that while some die-hard fans are watching, the audience for IGTV “isn’t fully there yet … even huge celebrities and influencers are struggling to get the same types of views [on IGTV] they get on YouTube or their feed.”

It appears, though, that the very creators Instagram promised users would anchor IGTV haven’t even bothered to put in a good-faith effort to get those views. Lauren Riihimaki a.k.a. LaurDIY has just two IGTV videos posted to her channel. One is a three minute “Target haul” — haul is vlogger talk for a video showing off everything you bought on a shopping trip and describing it in excruciating detail — and the other is a 56-second stop-motion clip of Riihimaki walking around Los Angeles. Both were posted on June 20, the same day IGTV launched. JiffPom the dog doesn’t have any IGTV videos posted at present. If creators aren’t creating on the platform, then it only makes sense that users aren’t, well, using it. There’s nothing to watch.

Facebook hasn’t expressed concerns over IGTV’s apparent struggles — former CEO Kevin Systrom spoke bullishly about the platform in August — but IGTV content view counts are significantly lower than what the same creators see on YouTube. And that speaks for itself. Downloads for the IGTV app in the United States have only barely cracked the top 200 in the United States in recent weeks, according to data from AppAnnie. Intelligencer spoke with over a dozen teens and young Instagram users to find out what’s keeping them from getting onboard.

“I just think it’s really unnecessary and it’s a YouTube knockoff,” Alyssa, a 13-year-old from California, said. “I don’t really use it,” Claire, a tenth-grader from Massachusetts told Intelligencer. “I’m still confused as to what the purpose is.” “Sometimes I accidentally click on the icon,” Cole, 17, explained. “No, what is that?” John, 19, from New York asked when I brought up IGTV. Before we started talking about IGTV, John explained to me the importance of having more followers than people you’re following on Instagram. “It’s just a thing you have to do,” he said. This is a teen who speaks fluently about the unwritten rules and customs of Instagram, yet he’s never heard of the product Instagram is targeting directly at him.

IGTV, in case you’re not familiar, exists within the Instagram app, housed inside an orange icon of a cartoon television in the app’s upper right-corner. It’s right next to the direct message icon — the one shaped like a paper plane — so if you, like Cole, accidentally opened it, odds are you were just trying to get to your DMs. He’s not the only one. “I’ve only accidentally clicked on it,” Sam, a 16-year-old from North Carolina told Intelligencer via Snapchat DM, his preferred method of communication. There’s also a stand-alone IGTV app, but none of the teens Intelligencer spoke with had downloaded it. Most hadn’t even heard of it. “Damn fr I ain’t even know,” Sam said. (“Fr” here being shorthand for “for real.”) “Haha, there’s a stand-alone app?” Cole asked.

“Maybe [I’d use IGTV] if some of my favorite YouTubers would use it,” Alyssa said, listing Shane Dawson, Issa Twaimz, and David Dobrik among her top picks. Of the list, only Dawson, who’s made recent headlines with a dramatic, multi-part YouTube documentary about Jake Paul, is currently using IGTV. Many of the teens who spoke with Intelligencer echoed Alyssa when it came to YouTube. “I love YouTube so much,” Claire said, followed by the word “love” three more times for emphasis. Claire said she’d only watched one IGTV video in its entirety. “I’ve noticed more celebrities promoting and collaborating with brands on [IGTV],” she said. “Some of my friends use it to showcase work they’ve done like performances or speeches.” Claire said her preferred uses for Instagram are watching Stories from celebrities, “funny dog videos,” and liking photos from friends. She has never posted an IGTV video. Only one of the teens Intelligencer spoke with had ever posted a video to IGTV.

Smaller creators aren’t diving in, either. “I tried it the first day it came out and never touched it again,” said Alana, a 22-year-old social media manager who describes herself as an “influencer wannabe.” Alana’s personal account has just under 3,000 followers. “My work’s Instagram has tried putting out some IGTV content but it doesn’t get nearly as much engagement as our Stories,” she added, noting that part of IGTV’s problem may be its UX design. “With Instagram, you have to be mindful that people mindlessly scroll, so they’re only thinking about posts and Stories since that’s what you see first.”

“I don’t really understand why they launched IGTV,” said Cathy Peshek, a full-time blogger and co-founder of The Blog Societies, a network for other bloggers. The Instagram arm of her brand, Poor Little It Girl, has over 60,000 followers. Peshek says she and her colleagues have no need for IGTV, mostly because Instagram has already given them so many other, solid outlets. “Why would we do something more complicated when Instagram Stories is so easy and we can save our Stories to our highlights?” Peshek explained, adding that prior to Instagram adding the option to “highlight” Stories — previously Stories vanished after 24 hours with no way to permanently post them — IGTV would have been clutch. (Video clips in Stories max out at 15 seconds, unlike IGTV where the videos can run up to an hour.) “I have too many other things to do, between Instagram Live and Stories and posting regular photos. There’s a million other things they could do to make the platform better, but launching IGTV wasn’t one of them.”

For larger creators, IGTV’s business model doesn’t make it worth the time it takes to create custom content for the platform. “Everyone was super excited when IGTV launched and creators felt reenergized because they had a new place with new possibilities,” Fisher from Select explained. “There’s still some of that … but they’re finding they can’t put hours and hours into something and not get a business payoff. There has to be an incentive for the talent.” Fisher explained there is currently no monetization system on IGTV, like ads on YouTube or partnership deals with Facebook Watch. Nash Grier told Digiday in August that he was excited by IGTV’s vertical format, but that same story noted a video from Grier, who has nearly 10 million Instagram followers, got just 15,000 views in a day. Which is to say … not great returns.

“An overwhelming amount of accounts I follow post to IGTV, but I presume that isn’t the only medium where I could find those same videos,” Cole told Intelligencer, meaning a number of accounts will just crosspost videos from other platforms, like Snapchat or YouTube, on their IGTV channels. For example, KingBach, a creator highlighted in IGTV’s launch press release, has posted seven videos to his channel since then. All of them were within a week of the product launch, but five of them are just YouTube videos re-uploaded to IGTV. If you’re watching those videos in IGTV you have to turn your phone sideways, just like you would watching a YouTube video. “It’s built for how you actually use your phone, so videos are full screen and vertical,” Instagram wrote about IGTV at launch, though there is clearly nothing stopping accounts from using IGTV as a forum for crossposting existing horizontal content. Metrics-wise, content on IGTV doesn’t perform nearly as well as content on YouTube. KingBach’s most recent IGTV video has 285,000 views on IGTV. It’s got over 4 million on YouTube, a platform where KingBach is actually making money. (It’s worth noting that the video was posted on YouTube in January and on IGTV in June. But even if the views quadrupled on IGTV in the next six months, it still wouldn’t come close to YouTube numbers.)

Things over at Instagram have seemed fairly fraught in recent weeks, following the departure of the platform’s co-founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, amid rumors of clashes with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “It’s a new format. It’s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time,” Systrom told TechCrunch in September prior to his departure. But Stories was also a new format for Instagram which blatantly copied it from Snapchat in 2016 … and it didn’t take long at all for people to flock to it en masse. A year later — and keep in mind IGTV still has three quarters to go — Instagram users were spending more time in Stories than on Snapchat. IGTV isn’t a novel idea for Instagram. It is, once again, something it borrowed from other platforms. Something it borrowed because it’s working for other platforms. So why can’t Instagram get it to work?

“I just feel like not enough people see a point in IGTV,” Nicole, 18, said, emphasizing an oft-repeated suggestion for Instagram. “Instagram has so many other issues with their algorithm that they need to fix before trying to introduce something that no one asked for.” IGTV seems to be failing at every turn. Young users aren’t using it to watch content. They’re not using it to make content. And the people whose content they would watch aren’t, for the most part, making it, either. (A recent report from Business Insider did find the platform was rife with videos of “potential child abuse.”)

“People don’t go on Instagram to watch TV,” Madi, a high-school senior, said, even though Facebook would definitely like them to. By 2020, Instagram is expected to account for 70 percent of Facebook’s new revenue, according to a recent report from Recode. If Facebook wants to continue to use Instagram to shield itself amid its unending bad press — the company recently disclosed a hack affecting 50 million users — it’s going to need the platform, and all its features, to succeed with users.

“The best future that I can see for IGTV is that it develops some sort of cult following like Vine,” Cole said, referencing the short-lived and widely beloved video app shuttered by Twitter in 2016. “Right now, I don’t see it.” And why would he. Instagram built Stories so well that it effectively played itself. IG Stories is now the gold standard for the ubiquitous format. It’s got prime real estate at the top of the app. It’s easy to use, both for the everyday phone-haver and for those in the influencing business. Instagram cemented itself as the place in the social-media landscape to come for short, entertaining video updates. Not as a place for longer, produced stuff. For that, everybody knows you can just go to YouTube.

Why Can’t Instagram Get Anybody to Care About IGTV?