Instagram has just launched IGTV: a new platform for long-form vertical video. Will it be of any use to research communicators? And how can we avoid becoming overwhelmed by the sheer number of video platforms available these days?
Another day, another video content platform!
It seems like every time I fire up my computer or check my phone there’s news of another video channel or format being launched that promises to revolutionise how we consume online video content. As the social media giants vie for supremacy they’ve become locked in a battle to bring out a constant flow of new innovations and features to get one up on their rivals, and since our voracious appetite for consuming video is showing no signs of abating, new video platforms are one of their biggest and most frequently used weapons in that war.
The latest to join the fray is IGTV, a new service offered by Instagram, who announced their fresh offering last week. IGTV will allow users to upload vertical videos of up to 60 minutes in length and the feature will be available to anybody who wishes to start a channel and upload content.
What makes it different?
There’s nothing particularly unique about IGTV. Snapchat has been using vertical video to dominate the mobile video market for years (although its influence has declined rapidly since the launch of Instagram Stories). And allowing for videos of up to an hour in length pits IGTV directly against YouTube, which has had great success with longer-form content for a number of years now and is seeing watch time on its platform growing dramatically year-on-year.
So it’s basically an amalgamation of existing formats, designed to poach users from some of Instagram’s competitors.
Will it work?
Probably. Instagram now has over a billion monthly users and its Stories feature, which was ‘inspired’ by Snapchat stories has become a runaway success (over 250 million daily active users within a year of launch), so there’s no reason to see why IGTV won’t take off too.
Mobile devices account for 58% of all videos watched globally today and the vertical format of IGTV, which is designed specifically with mobile consumption in mind, taps into that trend.
Having said that, it will be interesting to see if Instagram users have the patience for long-form content when viewed on the platform. Instagram's success is thanks, in part, to its design that encourages viewers to be constantly scrolling and swiping, giving users a constant stream of new content to keep their dopamine surging.
It's one of the things that makes us keep coming back to our social media apps but it could be a problem for Instagram as it tries to keep users' attention focused on a single piece of content for many minutes at a time. The temptation to simply swipe left and see what else is on could be too hard to resist for many.
Who will be watching?
Assuming that most IGTV users, at least in the early days, will be existing instagram users then it’s likely to be watched mostly by people between 18 and 34 years of age, as this is by far Instagram’s most loyal and active demographic.
But since the move is a clear attempt to lure fans of creators from Snapchat and YouTube, who tend to be in their teens to mid twenties, it's inevitable that the audience will start skewing younger over time.
How useful will it be for research communication? Should we all be jumping on board?
The first thing to say is that just because a video platform exists that doesn’t mean you have to be on it. It’s all too easy to become sucked into feeling that we have to be active on every available channel in order to make sure that we’re reaching as many people as possible but, as ever, the key thing is to ask yourself what you’re looking to achieve with your research communication and then you can work out the best way to reach those goals.
Far better to focus on one or two platforms and do them really well than spread yourself too thin, especially if you’re an individual or small research organisation with minimal resources. Creating content in multiple formats and aspect ratios to fit all the different platforms - 16:9 widescreen for Youtube; 1:1 Square video for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; vertical video for Snapchat and IGTV - is hugely time consuming, so only do it if you have good reason to.
The best approach is to focus on your audience and pick a platform accordingly. If you want to disseminate your research amongst the academic community then Twitter and Linkedin are ideal. If you want to target middle aged members of the public with a specific interest then Facebook is an excellent platform to do that kind of targeted profiling. And if you want people to find your video by chance from searching for that particular subject then YouTube is by far the best place to be, as it's the second biggest search engine in the world. It's unlikely, at this stage at least, that IGTV will be a go-to platform for people seeking specific information about a topic.
How can we start using it?
You can access IGTV in one of two ways, either directly through the existing Instagram app by clicking on the icon in the upper right hand corner (you'll have to update your app if it hasn't appeared automatically), or by downloading the stand-alone IGTV app.
Starting your own channel and uploading content to IGTV is incredibly easy. Just press the IGTV icon in your Instagram app, then the cog icon and follow the instructions to set up a channel.
But starting your channel is the easy part. Creating content specifically for the platform is somewhat more complicated. One thing you definitely should not do is simply upload horizontal video onto the platform. It looks terrible. Whatever you might think about vertical video, IGTV is built specifically for it, so if you're going to use the platform then you need to embrace the vertical format.
What's the best way to create vertical video?
Here are some tips and tricks to help you get started:
- Instagram recommends shooting in 4K resolution, as this gives you the greatest flexibility, especially as you'll probably have to crop the image significantly to make it work as a vertical video, which reduces the image quality. Then export the video in 1080p.
- To best way to get your videos into 9:16 format (vertical) is to do it within the settings of your editing software. All advanced editing platforms, e.g. Apple's Final Cut Pro and Adobe's Premiere Pro, have the capacity to create sequences and export in 9:16.
- If your editing software doesn't support 9:16 then you'll have to rotate your vertical video to horizontal, create your edits, export your video in horizontal, then when it's exported you can use Quicktime to rotate it back to vertical by opening the video in Quicktime, click Edit, then click Rotate.
- To repurpose existing videos that have been shot in landscape 16:9 format, either import them into your editing software to a 9:16 vertical sequence, then realign the shots to fit the new aspect ratio and export
- Or there are a couple of apps that can help you if your editing software doesn't have the capacity:
So, there you have it. Everything you need to know to dive into the world of IGTV. But remember, only do it if it suits you to do so. Don't feel obliged. I'm going to be on the lookout for interesting educational content on IGTV in the coming weeks and I'll share any discoveries I make with you. I'd also love to see what others from the world of research communications are doing with the platform so if you do start dabbling with it let me know.
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Peter Barker is the Director of Orinoco Communications, which he started in 2016, having spent over ten years working in broadcast television as a documentary producer/director.
He specialises in the digital communication of research in science, the social sciences, humanities and arts.