Instagram is still searching to find the right recipe for IGTV, the long-form video service it debuted nearly a year ago.
In the hopes of encouraging usage of IGTV, Instagram is breaking the original design that allowed only vertical video– to now support horizontally oriented videos as well. It’s a change that bows to the reality that most people prefer to create and watch long-form video in landscape mode.
But will it help IGTV, positioned as a YouTube rival, finally get off the ground? One of its shortcomings has nothing to do with video formats: IGTV, which is available within the Instagram app as well as in standalone IGTV apps, still lacks monetization features that would provide greater incentives for creators to distribute original video on the platform. Instagram says monetization plans for IGTV are on the drawing board but it isn’t ready to discuss them.
The theory is that IGTV’s support for landscape mode will yield a bumper crop of diverse new content, and, by extension, a lift in viewing. The change comes after Instagram in February introduced a new feature letting creators post previews of IGTV videos to their Instagram feed. That helped drive up IGTV views, Instagram claims, but it hasn’t disclosed any specific usage metrics.
Instagram decided to add support for horizontal video viewing after getting numerous requests from creators and users for the feature, said Instagram product manager Ashley Yuki. By default, landscape videos shared on IGTV will display in vertical orientation (in a letterboxed view); users can select the landscape view and rotate their phones to watch them in full-screen mode.
“This is about making [IGTV] a home for great content, regardless of how it’s shot,” Yuki said. “We want to remove those kinds of barriers and let creators do what they do best. There’s a lot of content that doesn’t fit into vertical.”
When Instagram launched IGTV, it touted the vertical-video-only design as a strength — and a differentiator from YouTube. “It’s built for how you actually use your phone, so videos are full screen and vertical,” co-founder and then-CEO Kevin Systrom wrote in the June 2018 blog post announcing IGTV.
Now Instagram says the addition of horizontal videos to IGTV is an “evolution” of the product, similar to when the main app expanded beyond square photos in 2015. Whereas the Instagram app limits videos to 60 seconds, IGTV allows anyone to post videos up to 10 minutes in length (and a subset of creators can share videos up to an hour long).
To be sure, Instagram remains bullish on vertical videos. “Vertical feels native and immersive,” Yuki said. “At the end of the day, what’s important is creators can use the best format to share their content.” Vertical videos work best for creators who want an “up-close-and-personal” feel, she said, citing as examples Baby Ariel’s “Love Triangle” series and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s IGTV videos. A horizontal format works better when there are multiple people in a frame and for high-motion content (like dance and sports).
As for when IGTV creators will be able to generate money from their content, Yuki said Instagram is working on it but declined to provide details.
“Monetization is a very active work-stream for us. We know how important it is for creators,” she said. “Some of the thoughts there are making sure we get that right whenever we’re ready to make that step. It’s a complex step to align the incentives across the ecosystem, to make sure creators are getting their fair share.”
Meanwhile, Instagram has made other recent changes to the IGTV app. Those include switching from category-based browsing with horizontal scrolling to a single, algorithm-based feed of suggested videos in a vertical scroll — copying elements of TikTok and Snapchat apps, TechCrunch reported this week.
Currently, the IGTV iOS app ranks No. 171 in Apple’s App Store photo and video category, whereas Instagram is No. 2 (behind YouTube).