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I (Don’t) Want My IGTV

Despite massive popularity, unrivaled cultural relevance and a billion daily active users, Instagram can’t seem to figure out long-form video. Specifically, its “IGTV” platform, which originally launched as a standalone app in June (remember that?) is largely being ignored by users, at least if multiple media reports (New York Magazine, Fast Company) are to be believed. 

Small sample-size? Sure. But the numbers aren’t encouraging when so few show have shown any interest in IGTV.

We don’t have much else to go on. Despite scouring the internet, I couldn’t find a credible reporting of IGTV’s monthly active users (MAUs). Presumably, that would indicate that the number is underwhelming, and as such, it hasn’t been released. I found a random tweet that pegged it around 65 million, but that number is unsubstantiated and seems unlikely. 

Quick, informal polls on my Twitter and Instagram feeds suggested the same conclusion. 

In my own Instagram story and Twitter feed last week, I asked followers, most of whom work in the digital marketing space, if they actually use IGTV. Of 40 responses to my Instagram story poll, only one person acknowledged actually watching the IGTV platform. 

At 2.5% percent, that’s about as effective as a PPC ad. That’s not what we industry types call a great conversion rate.

On Twitter, most replies were “Nope.” Others suggested that they’d only landed on IGTV accidentally.

Instagram launched IGTV to much fanfare midway through 2018, with analysts proclaiming it to be a potential YouTube competitor. That didn’t pan out. Almost a year later, the platform feels like, at best, an afterthought, and at worst, a miscalculation. When the initial standalone app failed to take off, IGTV was more deeply integrated into into the main Instagram experience.

However, IGTV doesn’t seem to be resonating with rank-and-file Instagram users. 

Early on, Instagram was preaching patience. â€œIt’s a new format. It’s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time,” former Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told TechCrunch in August of 2018. “Think of it this way: we just invested in a startup called IGTV, but it’s small, and it’s like Instagram was (in the) ‘early days.’”

A month later, Systrom, along with Instagram Co-founder Mike Krieger, left Facebook, Instagram’s parent company.

So, is IGTV the new Google+? It’s likely too early to tell, but it’s looking that way.

Instagram’s main feed and Stories products have become symbiotic with the influencer community, and IGTV seems tailor-made for brands and influencers to offer longer-form content; videos can be up to an hour long. However, the people who should have the most interest in the new platform, creators themselves, are mostly just repurposing (read: cropping vertically) their YouTube content

Without a clear monetization path, they’re unlikely to continue to put any real effort into the platform. Top talent on YouTube can make six figures or more a month.

IGTV isn’t the first time that Facebook has swung and missed on long-form content. Facebook Watch, which was also positioned as a YouTube competitor, initially was paying content providers, with an estimated budget of $90 million. But as that money started drying up, outside of truly unique content like Tom Brady’s “Tom vs. Time,” “Ball in the Family” or WWE’s “Mixed Match Challenge”, there wasn’t much to see on Watch.

IGTV is not paying content creators, and it still lacks an advertising or revenue-sharing model. (UPDATE: On April 2, AdAge reported that Instagram has started to reach out to advertisers about buying spots on IGTV.)

Far more problematic beyond a revenue model is the main issue for influencers: If nobody’s watching, who’s being influenced?  Is there really a long-form content appetite to be fed on Instagram via the smartphone?

Depending on which gurus you believe, millennials either want “snackable” short-form content, or they actually want long-form content. Go ahead: Google “longform video making a comeback.” You’ll find articles from 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 in the first page of results.

Gary Vaynerchuk has embraced the platform, but many creators have already given up on IGTV.

But here’s the thing: Long-form content never went anywhere. With apologies to L.L. Cool J, don’t call it a comeback. Long form content has been here for years. It’s called YouTube. And why is YouTube so successful?

One word: search. YouTube is the second-biggest search engine in the world, trailing only its parent company, Google.

IGTV, in an effort to differentiate itself from YouTube, launched without proper search functionality. In fact, when you activate IGTV, it opens with static fuzz, like what you would see when you turned on a TV with a cable box back in 1983 and flipped through channels, not knowing what you’re going to get next.

“Because we don’t have full text search and you can’t just search any random thing, it’s about the creators” Systrom explained at the time of the launch. “I think that at its base level that it’s personality-driven and creator driven means that you’re going to get really unique content that you won’t find anywhere else and that’s the goal.”

Search has since been added to IGTV (and it quickly auto-suggests feeds that create IGTV content), but when I opened IGTV over the weekend, I was served up content from ESPN, WWE, Gary Vaynerchuk and The Daily Show. 

This is all content I can find everywhere else, on Twitter, television, Linkedin, etc.

Discoverability is one of the main issues that’s continued to plague Snapchat, and seems to be hurting IGTV as well. With all of the choices we have today, am I going to invest five minutes into a random piece of longform content that an algorithm thinks I want to watch? Possibly.

The likelihood increases dramatically, however, if it’s something I’ve searched out.

With all of the data these major platforms have at their disposal, why do they continue to make such large errors in assessing what their users actually want? Why do they fail in targeting new spaces like Google did with social, or Instagram seems to be doing with long-form video?

In reading about the Google+ failure, one anonymous former Googler said the company was “late to market” and motivated from “a competitive standpoint” as they looked to take on Facebook.

If you’ve never read this infamous tweetstorm from another former Google+ engineer, it describes office politics, siloed teams and a lack of clear vision as major factors in the demise of Google’s failed social network. Here’s the start of that thread:

Given the recent Instagram drama surrounding the founders’ departure from Facebook, it’s likely that similar forces were at play with IGTV.

Whatever the reason, IGTV hasn’t lived up to the hype of last year’s launch, and it may never take off at all. Instagram itself doesn’t seem to be losing steam. But they badly misread the market and their users’ appetite (or lack thereof) for long form content. 

The lesson might be this: You don’t have to be all things to all people.

Or, as Facebook Watch’s LaVar Ball says, “Stay in yo’ lane!”

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Go See America

If you follow my Instagram (http://www.instagram.com/peterstringer), you probably think I travel every week. I wish that we’re the case. If anyone wants to pay me to do that, I’m all ears. But in the last few months, I’ve really rediscovered my love of photography through my passion for travel. I take my Nikon with me everywhere now. While I certainly spend some time editing the shots, they are all my own, and I’m starting to think I actually (mostly) know what I’m doing with a camera (thanks to a lot of trial, error, practice and research.) 

While landscapes are certainly far easier to capture than portraits, or action sports for that matter, and I have incredible respect for professional photographers, it’s been neat to get so much positive feedback on my travel pictures. But more importantly, I’ve consistently heard from many people who see my photos that they “need to travel more.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a point of traveling whenever I can, and I’ve seen much more of America than most people I know. 

Delicate Arch, from my visit to Arches National Park in February 2017.

Look, New York and L.A. are great, and hey if you want to “do Iceland” or “do Thailand” like seemingly everyone in my feeds these days, go ahead. I’d love to see them too. But there’s an amazing country out there between the coasts. Go see our National Parks. I know, they’re in “fly-over states.” (I hate that term.) But if you’re mad about the election, want to Make America Great Again, or don’t understand why the country is divided, you need to see how the rest of America lives. And you’re robbing yourself of some spectacular scenery and breathtaking sights you might not even know exist. I certainly did not grow up with an appreciation of the National Parks. I didn’t go hiking or camping as a kid. But I’ve become passionate about these places now, and I’ve made memories in amazing places like Arches National Park, Red Rock Canyon and Horseshoe Bend that will stay with me forever.

Politics and perspective aside, travel has enriched my life far more than I’d previously imagined it could. I grew up without the resources to travel as a child, beyond a few family trips where we packed the kids into a station wagon and took three days to trek down I-95 from Manchester, NH to Dunedin, FL, stopping overnight in rundown Motel 6s with abandoned pools, and dining at dirt-cheap truck-stops. I stepped on my first airplane at age 17, and it would be four or five years before I’d do it again. 

In the last 10 years, I’ve been on countless flights. I’ve done three cross-country drives and many other thousand-mile-plus loops. If I could give my younger self any advice, it would simply be this: travel more, and do it earlier, and always see something new. Go see the rest of America. I’ve spent way too much money on travel, but I’ve never regretted a dime I’ve spent on a trip.

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Media Masters #10 – Molly McGrath, Fox Sports 1

For the 10th episode of Media Masters, I talked to Molly McGrath, an NFL sideline reporter, anchor and host at Fox Sports 1 who launched her on-camera career as the website reporter at the Boston Celtics. In under one year, Molly’s become a break out star at the new network, and is now featured on the nightly SportsCenter competitor, “America’s Pregame,” which airs five nights a week on Fox Sports 1.

Molly talked about her work ethic and drive that led to her success, what it was like to help launch the network, and how far her career has gone in such little time. She also offers insights for young reporters hoping to follow a similar career path, and shares some stories from her incredible journey.

Listen:

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Media Masters #3 – Jeopardy! Champ Brad Rutter

In Episode #3, Brad Rutter, the all-time leading money winner in the history of Jeopardy!, talks to Media Masters about his success on the show, what makes him such an adept player, and going head-to-head against Ken Jennings and IBM’s Watson.

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Ten Easy Digital/Social Predictions for 2013

I’ll spare you a plodding introduction. Prediction lists are quick and easy. Here’s 10 of them for 2013.

Google+ Rises – Google, the company that made its fortune in search, will figure out that G+ isn’t a social network, it’s a content directory. Google+’s best chance at success lies in its bread and butter – SEO – by giving big brands, celebrities and other entities the opportunity to dictate organic search. Look for Google to start showcasing G+ content in organic search results. It’s already starting to happen; expect more of it in 2013.

Snapchat Gets More Buzz – Snapchat, a messaging service seemingly inspired by Inspector Gadget with its self-destructing (sort of, but not really) messages, photos and videos, will go mainstream. It’s just starting to pick up buzz and the teenage demographic. Parents are no longer in the dark about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but how many know that their kids are on Snapchat? After all, teenagers are always looking for loopholes, so if you tell them they can’t use Instagram, they’ll just go somewhere else. For now, Snapchat seems to be that destination.

MySpace never really takes off – Tom may be sitting on his $580 million while you slave away hoping for another half day off, and Justin Timberlake may have signed on to be the new face of the old social network, but so far, there’s no evidence that every day users have interest in reclaiming their old space on the new Myspace. I’m not holding my breath. Besides, I always liked Friendster better back in the day.

Facebook and Twitter continue aggressive monetization push – Facebook changes the rules of engagement on a weekly basis, and they’re guaranteed to continue to seek out more revenue channels. Now a billion users strong, Facebook has gotten very aggressive about monetization, looking to charge fan pages anywhere from $2-25,000 for millions guaranteed impressions from, get this, their own audience! In December 2010, I predicted in this space that Facebook would charge brands in 2011. Looks like I was ahead of the curve at the time. But it was inevitable. As for Twitter, look for them to follow suit, and look for more tweets from people you never followed popping up in your timeline.

Social Networks Continue to Sell Your Data and Content – Most of us will continue to agree to the Terms of Service without thinking. But no worries, that picture you took of your lunch isn’t valuable anyway. But your data, what you like, and your user behaviors are likely all up for grabs.

Here Come the Commercials – With DVRs and On Demand neutralizing commercials on television, look for advertisers to seek out targeted video ad placements on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Social Media Gurus Go Out of Business – As Corporate America continues to staff up to manage social media internally, it will continue to realize that the only thing many outside social media consultants are actually selling is unquantifiable “engagement,” not to mention their own books. Those who refuse to measure ROI (with ridiculous justifications like, “What’s the ROI of your mother?”) or generate tangible results will be out of business. I think we’ll see more and more of the self-promoting, self-proclaimed “gurus” running for the comforts of a steady paycheck with a full-time job in Corporate America.

Journalism Continues to Die – As the gap that separates professional journalists from citizens narrows and the race to be first with a story intensifies, you’ll see more shoddy reporting from professional news outlets. This trend is well underway, but as traditional media relies more upon gathering information from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the quality of reporting will continue its steady erosion.

The Daily Deals Industry Finally Dies – Either Groupon, Living Social or both will go out of business this year. There’s a million stories out there about Groupon “deals” putting restaurants out of business. It will finally come back to haunt them and the shoe will land on the other foot. Remember when they turned down a $6 billion dollar offer from Google? Who was dumber? Google for offering, or Groupon for turning it down?

1,000 More Bad Ideas Emerge – They’ll be easier to spot this year. Let’s face it, for every Pinterest, there’s 40 startups out their trying to be Pinterest-meets-Tumblr-meets-Instagram. Trust me. They’re all horrible ideas.