Instagram launched its YouTube competitor last week, a day before the start of VidCon, the conference for online video creators and their legions of screaming teenage fans. The reasoning is obvious: While many top YouTubers have Instagram accounts, they have previously turned to YouTube to post videos longer than 60 seconds. Now, with IGTV supporting video up to 60 minutes long, Instagram is positioning itself as a place for new and existing stars of the creator world to build a strong, video-based presence. With one billion monthly users spending almost an hour on Instagram every day, the question is not if IGTV will increase those numbers, but how much it stands to do so.
Last week, Refinery29 sat down with Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger in the company's VidCon lounge to talk about how long it took to develop IGTV, why creators are important for Instagram, and how the new video platform fits with Silicon Valley's increasing focus on digital wellbeing.
How long have you been working on IGTV?
"Not that long actually. We basically plan everything at Instagram in six month cycles — it doesn't mean everything gets done in that process, but at least we know what we're working on for the next six months — and that usually aligns with December and June. So, in December Kevin [Systrom, Instagram's other co-founder] and I started thinking about what was next and what was our big thing for the first half of 2018. We'd seen how Stories had grown, and we'd seen how video was flourishing on Stories, but we also saw that it was limiting what people could do in terms of video.
"We do a big all hands near the end of the year, so our big, send everybody out for the holidays was, alright, during the first half of next year we're going to work on this thing, it's going to be called IGTV. We had one of our designers create a demo of what it could be, and this one was actually remarkably close.
"We gave people a couple of weeks to recover after the holidays, but then we jumped right in. Really, in earnest, the engineering team has only been building it since February. Most of the team that built IGTV overlaps with the team that built Stories. They're kind of our SWAT team that we send in when we have a big exciting new project."
How do you see people using IGTV?
"I think it's both on the creator and the consumer side. I'll start with the consumer: Our hunch here is that people are in different mindsets at different times. That's why we also built it as a separate app, because we wanted something where when you're in the mood for watching long-form [video], you have something that will give you exactly that.
"One of the things with video in Feed that I think has been really hard for us is that when you're in the mode of I just want quick hits and you hit a video, you're probably like, okay, five seconds, then I'm going to move on.
"On the creator side, I think we're going learn a lot from the first couple of weeks, but so far, obviously, the length helps [IGTV] feel different than Stories. The permanence helps as well. It raises the bar a bit in terms of what people are posting, but it also means that their investment is justified because it's going to stick around and it's going to be available for views."
Beyond the difference in length, what were creators most interested in when you told them about IGTV? What did they want to know about?
"I think the first one was how it interacted with the rest of Instagram. One of our bets here is that we can be interesting because they have an existing audience on Instagram and, especially for the creators we've been talking to, this is often where they got started and grew.
"One of the things we believe in at Instagram is being really user centric in our design, so we brought creators in pretty early. We didn't tell them all the details — nobody knew the name until launch, which is funny because if you watch the first set of videos on [IGTV] people are like, yeah, so this new Instagram TV thing. Nobody knew what it was called.
"Obviously, revenue and rev share is a conversation that we started with them. It's an ongoing conversation — we don't have anything finalised yet — but if we try develop it without engaging the creator community, we're going to be shooting in the dark.
"Most of the [creators] were like, cool, I'm totally down to try this but I want to know that there's something down the line to make it sustainable. We're all going be exploring whatever options makes sense. A lot of creators tell us that in terms of making a living, there's a portfolio approach. Part of their revenue comes from web share, part from branded content deals, part from doing their own merch, and part from going on tour. They have that portfolio and we want to be mindful of those needs."
"Creators are nothing if not super smart about how they spend their time. I think it's on us to prove that there's an audience for them and that it's worth it to them over time."
Mike Krieger, Co-founder of Instagram
So many of these creators are already on YouTube and other platforms. Did any express concerns about trying to juggle everything?
"I just talked to a creator this morning and their first reaction was, oh, another one. But then it became, there's this different thing that I can do here, that I was meant to do, and it makes sense on Instagram.
"I think they'll feel it out. Creators are nothing if not super smart about how they spend their time. I think it's on us to prove that there's an audience for them and that it's worth it to them over time. We talk to them and they're like, I don't want it to be this production fatigue thing, where I'm producing video all the time for that. I think it's on us to show value."
How do you see celebrities using IGTV differently than creators? What about everyday Instagram users?
"Celebrities will be interesting. For musicians, I think it's cool for them to be able to put whole music videos on Instagram for the first time, and I already saw a couple of those go up. It's funny to think about how many music videos will be thought of from a vertical-first perspective from now on. But you also see some behind-the-scenes for them as well. And a lot of celebrities have established branded content deals in place, so they can do deeper versions of those things on IGTV."
"For normal people, a lot of them are creators that just haven't made it yet. One of the fun things about having IGTV be internal for a couple of months was we discovered some of our employees are creators in the making. I'm a little worried they're going to leave their engineering jobs and just do full-time IGTV."
"That's a really good question and it's something that came up when we were developing [IGTV]. I think we're going to integrate them more over time. Right now, you can save your Live for 24 hours afterwards. I think figuring out how to blend that into IGTV better makes sense."
"I'd say there are two main things we've thought about. One is, how do we make sure people are conscious and aware? We have our usage insights tool coming out soon. That will be within your settings and will include IGTV as well. That's things like, how long am I spending on Instagram? Or, hey it's finals week, let me go on do not disturb mode just for Instagram for a week. Or, I want a notification for if I'm spending too much time.
"Two, is really trying to make sure that what we're building is a place where people interact rather than just consume. The very first version [of IGTV] we built internally didn't have comments, and our future aspiring creators internally were like, this is tending towards the direction that we don't want to go in, because it starts feeling really empty on the creator side because you're putting it out into the void. And on the consumer side, too, you want to feel like you're actually connecting to the person behind [the video].
"A lot of the things that we're doing research around is what feels like good time spent versus what feels like meaningless time spent. The constant theme is around interaction and making sure that you close that loop. I've been enjoying how much commentary there is happening on IGTV."
How often will Instagram roll out updates for IGTV? Will it be at the same pace Instagrammers are used to with their Stories and Feed?
"Yeah, I think so. Already after using it for two days, there's a lot I would change about the navigation. I think there's a bunch we've got to do, which is always natural after a launch. One of the exciting things about having IGTV in its separate app, too, is that we can experiment with new ideas there before we bring them into the main [Instagram] app."
"We had Stories mute, and then we launched mute in Feed. I think adding controls for IGTV makes sense."
Mike Krieger, Co-founder of Instagram
Do you think users will discover new creators on IGTV that they haven't discovered on their Feed?
"Totally, that's one of our hopes. We launched with 'For You', which is a personalised mix of stuff you follow and stuff that's blowing up, 'Following', which is just the stuff you follow, and then 'Popular'. But we want to add more of those tabs over time, and as we do I think it will be awesome for discovery.
"What you're also seeing is us, over time, getting more granular in how people control what they follow. We had Stories mute, and then we launched mute in Feed. I think adding controls for IGTV makes sense. Ideally, somebody is into all three of the things you make as a creator, but maybe they really like the IGTV stuff but not your Feed. We should let you control that overtime."
How will Instagram handle moderation for IGTV?
"There's a couple of things we do. We do proactive, machine learning-based things, and usually, the majority of those cases get flagged for human review. Then, when the visuals aren't the problem but the content is — you can imagine things where our algorithms are not quite there yet — we rely on reporting. So what we've been doing over the last couple of years is ramping up the number of human reviewers. If something is getting flagged a lot, it gets seen and then we can take it down. We're talking about how we can make sure that loop is as fast as possible.
Are you hiring extra reviewers?
"I don't think specifically for IGTV, but just in general. This is something that Facebook has been talking about basically in every earnings report. I think it's a recognition that while it's important to work on automatic content moderation, the realistic thing is we're not at the point where that's going to be catching everything. So, it's important to have the human element in there, too."
This interview has been edited for length and style.