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Instagram takes on Snapchat and YouTube with 60-second videos

Instagram announced that it will extend the time limit on videos on its network to 60 seconds, up from 15 seconds, better positioning it to compete with other social media services, such as Snapchat. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg News)
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Have a lot more to say on Instagram? You’re in luck. The company announced Tuesday that it’s going to extend the time limit on videos on its network to 60 seconds — up from 15 seconds — starting immediately. The company said in an official blog post that the new feature would hit some users’ accounts this week and roll out to everyone in the coming days.

You may wonder why a social network so focused on offering bite-sized content would want to enable a longer format. The answer, at least according to Instagram, is that its users wanted it.

In the last six months, the time people spent watching video increased by more than 40 percent. And longer videos mean more diverse stories from the accounts you love, whether it’s Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) hanging out with friends or beauty star Bretman Rock’s (@bretmanrock) latest makeup tutorial.

Instagram is also reintroducing the option for iPhone users to compile clips from different videos and stitch them together — like Vine or Snapchat’s Stories — to allow users to tell a more complex story through their videos. The changes came at almost exactly the same time as Snapchat’s recent updates to expand the service to allow video-chatting. The new Snapchat update also lets users auto-advance through their friends’ stories — a sort of central timeline to stay in touch with friends, although certainly not as traditional as the Facebook or Twitter timeline.

The new changes from Instagram put it in a better position against Snapchat or even Google’s YouTube, which have been quick to exploit users’ interest in sharing and streaming videos. Several analysts have said that video is the next step of social networking, and indeed of the Internet at large. Cisco, for example, said last year that it expects that, by 2019, video will account for roughly 80 percent of all Internet traffic.

Instagram first rolled out 60-second video as an option for advertisers in February. Advertisers have long pushed for longer commercial-length video on social media networks, but the decision to expand the 60-second format to everyone could be seen as an indication that those have been successful.

As an advertising platform, Instagram has become more important. It reaches an audience complementary to that of its parent company, Facebook. But because the two networks are part of the same company, advertisers have to create only one campaign to work on both networks. So if a brand wants to reach both Facebook’s older (read: over 25) audience and the younger, selfie-snapping youth of Instagram, they don’t have to run two advertising campaigns.

Facebook, of course, has seen a lot of success with its video advertising products, which has helped the company launch itself to some of the best advertising revenues in its history.

The company has said that its users watch 100 million hours of video per day. And although Facebook doesn’t break out Instagram’s video advertising in its earnings reports, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, told analysts on its last earnings call that “Instagram will become core to advertisers and mobile brand building efforts.”