On IGTV, Media Audience and Product Pros Take a Wait-and-See Approach

IGTV preview images in the Google Play store

Instagram’s June 20 launch of IGTV gives publishers, influencers, and content creators a chance to put vertical, longform video in front of Instagram’s one billion active users. A week after the launch, Refinery29’s Director of Social Strategy and Innovation Liat Kornowski led a discussion among news media audience and product development leaders about what the new platform offers or might offer publishers.

Their consensus: It makes sense for publishers to experiment with IGTV, particularly if they are already producing video that can be repurposed. But the platform doesn’t appear to offer publishers a game changing opportunity so far to gain viewers or revenue.

The discussion was convened by Tow-Knight Center at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, for members of its news Audience and Product communities of practice, which bring together journalists working to develop bigger, more engaged audiences and compelling products for a variety of global, national, and innovative niche publishers.

To allow community members to speak openly, the discussion was held under Chatham House rule, which permits participants to share what was said, but not who said it or the publications they represent.

Here are our some of the takeaways:

Experiments make sense. Big bets? Not so much

Of the dozen publishers who joined the conversation, only a handful were publishing longform video (defined as anything 90-seconds or longer) at all on IGTV— and only two publishers shared experiences with any original content.

  • Publishers primarily programmed with content recut from YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram Stories.
  • Of the six videos posted to IGTV by one digital native publisher, only one was original.
  • A newsletter-first company created an original, personality-driven feature — after three videos, they’re holding off on publishing more until they see results.
  • A European publisher was cross-posting sports highlights to benchmark against other platforms — and found them to be underperforming by comparison.

Monetization Needed

Participants on the call said that Instagram is providing publishers with little incentive to produce for the platform.

  • Without monetization tools or the ability to demonstrate reach, one publisher from a national broadcaster asked, “What’s in it for us?”
  • A digital native lifestyle publication suggested pre-roll or mid-roll ads would be the best bet to draw in publishers, noting, “It’s tough to justify investing in this new platform without any sort of benchmark or metrics or ROI.”
  • And this from a multi-brand digital native: “If Instagram is Creator first, I’m skeptical that we’ll get the kind of monetization tools that publishers need anytime soon,” since Creators are able to get direct monetization in ways publishers can’t.

Feed Splitting Is a Concern

Participants noted that IGTV may not appeal to Instagram’s current user base and wondered whether users would follow to IGTV or other tabs within the flagship app.

  • “We’ve seen Facebook make this mistake of trying to split its feeds, and taking it back, and splitting its feed and taking it back; it’s hard not to feel as if this is a competitor to Instagram Stories that is maybe doomed to fail. But we’ll see,” said a participant from a publisher of eight digital brands.
  • One publisher said that longform videos posted to their account, which has approximately 900,000 followers, typically received 25,000 to 30,000 views each (not including a spike of 250,000 views on one video they attributed to hitting the “algorithmic lottery”).
  • This publisher also noted that their 90-second videos only achieve 10 to 20 percent retention rates.
  • Another publisher said their account has about 100,000 followers, and their IGTV posts typically draw 1,000 views.

More Metrics Needed

Views, likes, comments, and percent watched are the metrics Instagram currently offers for longform. Other metrics participants said they’d like to receive include 30-second views (to help evaluate across platforms), videos per session (to measure binge-viewing), minutes watched, and viewership split by followers versus non-followers.

Personality Beats Polish

Participants shared that they were waiting to see what shape the platform takes. One observed that the current popular videos combined with Instagram’s apparent focus on individual creators, lead them to believe that personality-driven, gimmicky videos are rising to the top. At the time of the discussion, the most popular video to emerge on IGTV was a repurposed video by Netflix’s Riverdale star Cole Sprouse eating a hamburger over the course of an hour. “Stunty ones are the ones that grab the headlines,” one digital lifestyle publisher said. Another observed, “Everyone’s doing this kind of influencer style posting, which is interesting. It’s a way not to distinguish yourself, but to fit into the mold right now.”

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