How YouTube stars are using Instagram’s IGTV as a testbed

IGTV logo on top of a gradient background.

Instagram’s long-form video platform IGTV has yet to emerge as a legitimate rival to YouTube. However YouTube stars have found a role for IGTV that may help to set it apart from YouTube, though it may instead reinforce IGTV as a hub for YouTube hand-me-downs.

YouTube star Eva Gutowski has two YouTube channels. Her main channel has more than 10 million subscribers who tune into her highly produced videos detailing her shopping hauls and capturing her performing challenges that are trending on YouTube. She uses her second channel, which has 1.5 million subscribers, to post occasional day-in-the-life video diaries. But she also has an IGTV channel that she’s become more active on within the past month because it enables her to make the kinds of videos that may not fit with her YouTube presence.

“I get to do videos on IGTV that I wouldn’t post to my main [YouTube] channel. I don’t post makeup videos on my main YouTube channel; I’m not a makeup channel. But on Instagram, I can take those ideas that I’ve always wanted to do but maybe not wanted to do for my main channel on YouTube and try them out,” Gutowski said.

Other YouTube stars are similarly finding IGTV to be an opportunity to produce videos that they don’t feel like they can post to YouTube. In Gutowski’s case, IGTV is a chance to wade into different kinds of content, such as beauty and food videos. For others, IGTV is an opportunity to produce the kinds of casual videos that were once YouTube’s bailiwick but have become less common as video creators feel pressure to produce higher quality videos that are more likely to merit advertisers’ money.

“Safer content for ads and marketing purposes is definitely something that creators [on YouTube] have had to tackle in a different way in the past couple years,” said Mari Takahashi, a creator with 292,000 subscribers on YouTube.

In the wake of YouTube’s brand safety issues, the platform has become more aggressive in disabling ads on videos that advertisers may not feel comfortable advertising against. And this year the company began to take the production quality of creators’ videos into account when deciding whether to include a YouTube channel in its Google Preferred ad-buying program. As a result, YouTube stars are producing fewer but longer and higher quality videos for YouTube as a way to maintain favor with YouTube’s recommendation algorithm and content review system, as well as to increase their income by inserting more mid-roll ads.

Because of that pressure to produce higher quality videos for YouTube, IGTV stands in contrast as something of a release valve. It’s an opportunity to upload the more intimate, informal content that had been closely associated with YouTube and led viewers to feel like they were close with creators as opposed to the traditional celebrities they watch on TV or in movies.

“I feel like an IGTV video is more personal. On YouTube you have to set up the camera, the lights. My IGTV videos are not professional at all; it’s just like my iPhone,” said Denzel Dion, who has 1.8 million followers on Instagram and 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube.

Since the start of June, Dion has committed to posting one video each week to IGTV because he can create videos for IGTV that are longer than videos he can upload to Instagram’s main feed, which max out at one minute, but do not need to be as long or as time-consuming as the videos he posts to YouTube. “My IGTV videos are very spontaneous. They’re always shot just before I post,” he said.

Two weeks ago Dion’s manager reminded him that he had not yet posted an IGTV video that week. “I was in New York and didn’t know what to do. I had a pimple, so I covered it up with a beauty mark, and people liked it,” said Dion. That two-and-a-half-minute video has received more than 669,000 views on IGTV to become Dion’s second-most-viewed IGTV video.

IGTV’s emergence as a low-pressure alternative to YouTube for creators has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, these creators are producing original videos for IGTV, which could help IGTV to overcome its reputation as “the recycling bin for YouTube,” as it was described by one 14-year-old who attended digital video convention VidCon in Anaheim, California, last week. That could help to attract more viewers to IGTV by migrating creators’s YouTube audiences to Instagram’s rival platform.

On the other hand, if creators are largely posting videos to IGTV that don’t meet the standards of their YouTube videos, that could cement IGTV as second-hand YouTube. That could lead to viewers being turned off by the videos they find on IGTV. And whenever Instagram opts to open IGTV to advertising, it could make for a tough sales pitch to advertisers who are looking for higher quality videos to advertise against. These advertisers had been hesitant to advertise on YouTube because of content quality concerns, leading the platform to form its Google Preferred ad-buying program that limits ads to channels that meet certain thresholds, including viewership and production quality.

However, given that IGTV has yet to open up to advertising and creators are unlikely to adopt the platform en masse until it does, YouTube stars’ use of IGTV as a place to post their side projects could help to keep the platform in the consideration set for creators. Takahashi has gravitated to IGTV because editing videos for the predominantly, but no longer exclusively, vertical video platform has helped to reignite her desire to make videos. “After doing this for so long, having those passion projects is the only way you can continue having a fire under your ass,” she said.

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