At an Instagram event this morning in San Francisco, CEO Kevin Systrom strode onstage and began talking about “old and outdated,” “clunky and unnatural” video services that make you watch horizontal-oriented videos on a vertical smartphone screen and expect you to search or browse to find videos by your favorite creators. The word “YouTube” never passed his lips, but there’s no doubt that Instagram is gunning for it with its new, long-rumored video service, IGTV.
Available both in Instagram’s own mobile app and a new app of its own, IGTV lets users post longer vertical videos (10 minutes for everybody to start, 60 minutes for some selected creators) and has a mostly visual interface that’s more about spending time with video from Instagram stars you like than randomly falling down rabbit holes of content. The fact that it’s available in two apps stems from the fact that many people like using the main Instagram app to flit between tiny pieces of content like photos, short videos, and Stories, and might be less inclined to pay attention to a half-hour video. “We wanted to separate the two so you can decide which adventure to go on,” Systrom said.
Instagram stars such as Lele Pons, who has 25 million followers and appeared onstage at today’s event, will presumably like the opportunity to share longer-form content with their fans. But Instagram isn’t yet doing one thing that YouTube started doing early on: cutting creators in on ad profits. Actually, IGTV is launching without any ads at all, and Instagram isn’t making direct payments to stars, either. “Right now, we’re focused on building engagement,” said Systrom, adding that Instagram always likes to start simple, ads are a logical place to go, and the company would cut creators in on any money it makes.
Many a company has tried and failed to compete with YouTube, but Instagram has some things going for it, including a billion users—a new milestone that Systrom announced at the event—and plenty of creators already making a living on the service through monetization strategies such as sponsorships. Facebook’s efforts to take on YouTube via its core platform haven’t gone very far, so IGTV may be its best bet to create the digital world’s second longform video superpower.