Instagram is opening up IGTV to horizontal videos in an effort to lower the barrier for individual video creators, publishers and brands to post to its long-form video platform. However, if Instagram really wanted to spur media companies’ and marketers’ adoption of IGTV, it may be better off opening up IGTV to ads.
Starting on May 23, when a horizontal video is uploaded to IGTV, a miniaturized version of it will appear in the platform’s vertical-by-default video player, with black bars above and below it to denote it as a horizontal video. Viewers will be able to rotate their phones or tap a button to expand the video to play at full screen in landscape mode.
“We’ve heard a lot from creators that [IGTV’s lack of support for horizontal videos] is a constraint that’s been problematic for some of them or some types of their content,” said IGTV product lead Ashley Yuki. She declined to say how many videos are being uploaded to IGTV each month and how that number has trended since the platform’s launch. She also declined to say how many people, on average, use IGTV daily or monthly but said its active user base has “definitely been growing a lot.”
Adding support for horizontal videos is Instagram’s latest attempt to bolster IGTV, which has struggled to break into the mainstream. In February the company added an option for previews of IGTV videos to appear in followers’ main Instagram feeds, which has spurred a double-digit increase in viewership for Meredith’s IGTV shows. Then, to get IGTV videos further in front of viewers, earlier this month Instagram added IGTV videos to its Explore tab.
IGTV’s vertical-only support has been a point of friction among creators and media companies since the platform’s debut in June 2018. As much as IGTV offered a new opportunity for content makers to reach audiences on Instagram with a different kind of content, that vertical video limitation often meant needing to create new content specifically for the platform. “For creators, in particular, that’s a pretty big investment and probably leaves you questioning what the ROI is given there’s only so many hours in the day,” said Josh Grunberg, head of content, partnerships and talent at sports publisher Whistle.
Wary of producing original videos for an unproven platform, many creators and publishers would prefer to take the videos they have already produced for Facebook or YouTube and cross-post them to IGTV to see how they perform. Some have anyway. They have either cropped vertical versions of their horizontal videos or uploaded the horizontal videos as vertical videos so that people had to rotate their phones to view them. However working around IGTV’s vertical-only support in these ways “hasn’t really been an effective remedy to the pain point,” said Vanessa Flaherty, evp of management at influencer management company Digital Brand Architects.
IGTV adding support for horizontal videos “will definitely help” to make YouTube creators more open to testing IGTV, Flaherty said. Grunberg similarly said that the horizontal support will likely “help us to increase our output” on IGTV because Whistle will be able to syndicate shows that are meant to be viewed horizontally, like its YouTube series “Dunk League,” on Instagram’s long-form platform.
In addition to cross-posting Facebook and YouTube videos to IGTV without any additional editing, IGTV’s horizontal video support enables creators and publishers to produce different kinds of original videos for IGTV, such as videos that require more people to be in the frame at a time, said Vincent Marcus, a creator who has 589,000 followers on Instagram and has averaged 1.1 million views per video on IGTV.
While supporting horizontal videos may remove one barrier for creators, publishers and marketers to adopt and use IGTV, there remains a bigger barrier: IGTV’s lack of ads. Creators and publishers can upload brand-sponsored videos to IGTV, and IGTV’s horizontal support may make it easier to sell sponsored video campaigns that span YouTube, Facebook and now IGTV. But there is currently no way for them to make money from non-sponsored videos on IGTV. Unlike YouTube and Facebook, Instagram does not run ads within IGTV, the revenue from which Instagram could share with creators and publishers to incentivize them to use the platform.
The idea that creators would cross-post their non-sponsored YouTube videos to IGTV can be “a double-edged sword,” said Flaherty, if IGTV were to cannibalize a video’s views on YouTube and thereby undercut the money a creator can make from the video. “Monetization is still something that’s not being addressed,” she said.
Yuki said monetization is being worked on, but declined to go into detail, except to say it involves “a lot of complexity” and that Instagram wants to make sure whatever monetization product it rolls out for IGTV would be effective for creators and publishers without being disruptive for viewers.
The lack of ads is not only an issue for creators and publishers but also for marketers. “IGTV adoption overall is still low with brands, and the aspect ratio is just one small factor in why,” said Carly Carson, director of social at PMG.
A bigger factor impeding IGTV adoption among marketers is the combination of the resources it takes to produce a quality long-form video and the absence of a method for marketers to pay to promote those videos on IGTV in order to ensure they reach enough people to be effective. As a result, marketers have focused more on short-form videos that they can run as ads in Instagram’s main feed and stories feed as well as across other platforms. “As long as Facebook and Instagram continue to be pay-to-play platforms, and until there are more robust advertising opportunities around IGTV, we’ll see slow adoption,” Carson said.