Today, we have two big announcements to share. First, Instagram is now a global community of one billion! Since our launch in 2010, we’ve watched with amazement as the community has flourished and grown. This is a major accomplishment — so from all of us at Instagram, thank you!
Second, we’re announcing our most exciting feature to date: IGTV, a new app for watching long-form, vertical video from your favorite Instagram creators, like LaurDIY posting her newest project or King Bach sharing his latest comedy skit. While there’s a stand-alone IGTV app, you’ll also be able to watch from within the Instagram app so the entire community of one billion can use it from the very start.
While I linked to a blog post, IGTV was actually introduced at a special event in San Francisco, complete with a custom built stage and screens; you can view it here. CEO Kevin Systrom, after announcing that Instagram now had over a billion monthly active users, took the time to frame the impending announcement. I thought his comments were worth transcribing in full:
Let’s talk about video. So video is a way that we hang out with friends and pass the time, but how we watch it is changing. Teens are now watching 40% less TV than they did five years ago, and on Instagram people are watching 60% more video in just the last year. So how we watch is changing quickly — but what we watch is changing too.
An entirely new category of video now exists, and it’s being made by creators. Teens may be watching less TV, but they’re watching more creators online, and the number of creators has grown exponentially. Combined, these creators reach hundreds of millions of followers. And that makes Instagram one of the largest and most engaged audiences anywhere in the world. All of this change is super exciting, but we think there are a handful of problems: the tools we use to watch video are old and out-of-date. Thank about it: today we still watch videos formatted for a TV on a vertical screen, which means we either have to rotate our phone awkwardly, or watch a tiny little version, and that doesn’t make much sense.
But that’s not all: video on mobile is also clunky and unnatural. Current apps make you search or browse a directory to find things you like. When was the last time you had to turn on a TV and then type a search just to start watching? And even once you know what you want to watch, the results can be really overwhelming. How can you find all of the good stuff among all of the cat videos and everything else? Where are the creators that you guys love?
All of these problems made us think that you deserve better, and it’s time for video to move forward, and to evolve. But how? How can we make this better for our community of a billion? Whatever we do, it has to be mobile first. This is on your phone, so it should be built with your phone in mind. Next, it has to be simple. We have a saying at Instagram which is to do one thing and one thing really well. Finally, quality. In a world of overwhelming choice, you want the best videos, not just all videos.
So we followed these three principles and we built something brand new. Do you guys want to know what it is? We call it IGTV. We’ve reimagined what video is on mobile, and we want to share it with you today. IGTV is an app for watching long-form vertical video from your favorite creators.
The cynical explanation for IGTV — certainly the first thing I thought of when I heard about the announcement — was that it was another front in Facebook’s ongoing effort to challenge YouTube and position itself to capture the long-awaited shift of advertising from traditional TV to digital. Facebook has put video in the News Feed, auto-played it, scaled it up and scaled it back, and now is focusing on a separate Watch tab, complete with paid content.
The problem of all of those efforts, though, is the hard-to-shake sense that Facebook is doing video because video is what should be done for growth; it’s not at all clear how video corresponds to Facebook’s reason d’etre. Interestingly, it now seems Facebook agrees: the biggest change in Facebook’s latest algorithm change was a de-emphasis on News Feed video in favor of more content from friends and family.
It reminds me, in a way, of Facebook’s relentless pursuit of Snap earlier this decade: the company launched new apps and features that aimed to copy Snap and halt its growth; all failed miserably. All, that is, until Instagram Stories; at the time I gave credit to Mark Zuckerberg and Systrom for having the The Audacity of Copying Well; in retrospect, I think I sold Systrom and the Instagram team short: the truth is that Instagram’s implementation of Stories was better than Snapchat’s, and Snap’s struggle to redesign Snapchat to make it easier to use only highlight just how lightweight Instagram still feels even as the feature set has exploded.
The broader point was that a clarity of messaging is nearly always correlated with clear purpose and good design; unsurprisingly, in the case of the Watch, Apple had to completely overhaul the device’s software and refine its purpose before finding commercial success.
To that end, I am significantly more bullish on the potential of IGTV than I am on Facebook’s other video efforts: instead of slapping TV-like video functionality onto an app and hoping for success through the blunt leverage of a massive userbase, IGTV seems carefully considered both in terms of the market opportunity and with regard to its fit with Instagram generally