Instagram wants to be both YouTube and TikTok, but it’s succeeding at neither
Updated: Jan 27
A week ago, Instagram announced it’s taking down the orange IGTV button that was perched on top of its billion-user social networking app. The prominently placed portal to IGTV inside the Facebook-owned app was meant to jumpstart Instagram’s quest to be the new-age YouTube. But two years later, IGTV has seemingly found itself in the middle of an identity crisis.
Originally pitched as a vertical video platform for a mobile-first generation of viewers, IGTV has struggled to produce the same figures Instagram’s other recent ventures like Stories have.
“We’ve learned that most people are finding IGTV content through previews in Feed, the IGTV channel in Explore, creators’ profiles and the stand-alone app. Very few are clicking into the IGTV icon in the top right corner of the home screen in the Instagram app,” an Instagram spokesperson said about the dismissal of the IGTV button.
In reality, however, IGTV’s worries are worse than Instagram would like to admit. Research by analytics firm, Sensor Tower suggests barely 1% of Instagram’s billion-plus user base have downloaded the stand-alone IGTV app.
The absence of any metrics from Instagram means it’s unclear how many of those actively tune into IGTV. If individual view numbers are any indication, chances are IGTV’s regular subscribers are in just thousands. What’s more, a number of stars Instagram roped in to promote IGTV have deserted their channel shortly after uploading a handful of videos.
And that is largely the result of the fact that Instagram lost sight of IGTV following the initial months. In late 2018, TikTok out of nowhere delivered what Instagram had been trying to figure out — an endless stream of vertical video clips — and racked up millions of users across the globe in a matter of months. In the same period IGTV obtained 7 million downloads, TikTok has soared on the leaderboards with over a billion downloads — a mountainous deficit for the Facebook-owned social network to overcome.
Instagram was at a crossroads. It could either continue to focus on offering a YouTube alternative for vertical videos and risk letting a huge, new market slip away or shift gears to ensure TikTok doesn’t grow bigger than it already has.
Instagram chases competitors
IGTV’s past year indicates how aggressively Instagram has tried to take on both of them.
In May 2019, it announced landscape video support for IGTV, a move many speculated was a desperate attempt at ensuring it doesn’t lose non-vertical creators to YouTube. Meanwhile, the company also refuses to bring monetization to IGTV, forcing long-form video producers to stick to YouTube.
That same month, Instagram revamped IGTV’s feed to function more like TikTok’s replacing the side-scrolling carousel with a single A.I.-based vertical list. That’s not all. A couple of months later, Instagram pretty much cloned the majority of TikTok’s app inside Stories under a new section called Reels. Further, in late 2018, Facebook even released a dedicated TikTok clone called Lasso.
No one knows what exactly IGTV is anymore, including Instagram itself.
These efforts have ended up pushing IGTV into an equivocal state. No one knows what exactly IGTV is anymore, including Instagram itself — and that’s precisely where competitors like TikTok have been able to thrive.
“TikTok is purpose-driven. There is an expectation of what to share, how to share it and why you’re doing it that’s all guided by other users, as well as the tools that the app provides. From an analyst perspective, IGTV is meant to keep more people inside the platform versus going to places like YouTube for longer-form content, but the expectation from a user perspective isn’t prevalent inside Instagram currently. Some people are using it, others aren’t.” John Ratcliffe-Lee, vice president and account director of Digital Strategy at Ketchum, told Digital Trends.
Since it’s much easier to go viral on new platforms, most internet personalities abandoned IGTV and picked TikTok for their latest projects. There’s also the added benefit of TikTok’s banquet of built-in creative tools and challenges that allow users to regularly push trendy content without any significant investments.
“I think all newer platforms are a bit easier to grow with. Instagram is more mature as a platform so the growth is different than TikTok. Growth on TikTok is pretty incredible especially since videos that perform well really get pushed on the platform,” Brent Rivera, who has about 19 million follows on Instagram and TikTok each, told Digital Trends. “I’ve gotten a few videos over 100 million views and one with over 230 million views which would be really hard to replicate elsewhere.”
While just about every IGTV channel has an active TikTok presence, that’s not the case the other way round. TikTok’s top creators almost exclusively depend on it for publishing new video content. Some even have employed IGTV to recycle their TikTok clips and get the most out of their work.
“I think all newer platforms are a bit easier to grow with. Instagram is more mature as a platform so the growth is different than TikTok.”
Incidentally, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say history is repeating itself for Facebook. The ailing social network has been in a similar position when it scrambled to throw a wrench in Snapchat’s rise. Its last blockbuster product, Stories, was essentially a copy of a similar Snapchat function.
For TikTok, too, the company is pulling out all the stops. Copycat best features? Check. Release a clone? Check. Integrate a TikTok-like product somewhere inside Instagram? Check. In August 2016, Facebook nearly even acquired Musical.ly — a lip-syncing app that Chinese startup, Bytedance snatched away and later merged it with its video platform, TikTok.
Over the years, Facebook has ballooned into a Goliath of a company and time and again, it has proved its inability to innovate and drive the trends instead of pirating them. It’s been years since the Mark Zuckerburg-led social network has added a unique, successful product to its portfolio. Today, it yet again faces a David who potentially threatens its ascendency. The question is will TikTok succeed or simply end up succumbing to Facebook’s vast resources?