SAN FRANCISCO — Social media network Instagram made a more aggressive push into the “media” side of its business Wednesday, hosting a splashy launch for a new service for long-form video called IGTV.
Several celebrities with prominent social media accounts joined Instagram chief executive Kevin Systrom to kick off the new platform. The launch party, in true tech industry fashion, featured colored lights, loud music and photoworthy scenes set in the alcoves of a former Honda dealership — located steps away from a homeless encampment in the heart of San Francisco.
Instagram has already made itself the go-to destination for carefully staged photos and short videos that show off people living their best lives. Understanding the full context for Instagram's interest in video requires looking just outside the frame. Video viewing, particularly on mobile, is up significantly over the past five years as traditional television declines. Video has also proven a lucrative area for online advertising dollars while more traditional text ads have stagnated. Tech giants including Google, Amazon.com and Apple have all invested in different video efforts. Facebook itself started an aggressive video push last year by heavily promoting its live-streaming technology and also, in some cases, funding original content on-demand.
(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)
Yet Facebook's efforts to court viewers with YouTube-like channels has failed to catch interest. Enter Instagram,, acquired by Facebook in 2012, which has always been the more visual platform and is traditionally more successful at courting young users. It has been largely insulated from controversies, such as Facebook's data privacy woes or YouTube's problems with curation.
Instagram's timing may be right. "Marketers see YouTube as an obvious opportunity. But they’re also growing increasingly weary of brand reputation across the platform," Todd Krizelman, chief executive of the marketing intelligence firm MediaRadar, said in an emailed statement.
Instagram is also growing quickly. Chief executive Kevin Systrom said onstage Wednesday that Instagram now has 1 billion active monthly users, up from 800 million in September.
The network has also proven to be one of the best social media networks for video engagement, according to research firm eMarketer, setting up the potential for IGTV to be a moneymaker for Facebook. While there are no advertisements on IGTV at launch, Systrom was clear that there would likely be in the future. Advertising, he said, would be a “reasonable place to end up” for IGTV.
IGTV launched as its own app Wednesday, though it's possible to view videos and get recommendations for what to watch through the traditional Instagram app. To jump-start the service, Instagram asked hundreds of prominent users including Kim Kardashian West, Kevin Hart and Selena Gomez to post videos to the service. But it's not only for celebrities, anyone can upload videos, which are all vertical.
Initially, mobile and web users will have a 10 minute limit on their videos. Some creators are allowed to upload videos for up to an hour. Instagram ultimately intends that there will be no time limit on any accounts, Systrom said.
While much of what Instagram announced Wednesday is similar to what YouTube and others have done before, it is not bankrolling the creation of any shows — a strategy that competitors such as YouTube, Amazon and Netflix used to fuel interest in their young video platforms.
That doesn't seem to be in the cards for IGTV. “What we have always done really well is remain a neutral platform that connects people to their audience and their friends,” Systrom said.