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Instagram prototypes letting IGTV creators monetize with ads

Instagram may finally let IGTV video makers earn money 18 months after launching the longer-form content hub. Instagram confirms to TechCrunch that it has internally prototyped an Instagram Partner Program that would let creators earn money by showing advertisements along with their videos. By giving creators a sustainable and hands-off way to generate earnings from IGTV, they might be inspired to bring more high-quality content to the destination.

The program could potentially work similarly to Facebook Watch, where video producers earn a 55 percent cut of revenue from “Ad Breaks” inserted into the middle of their content. There’s no word on what the revenue split would be for IGTV, but since Facebook tends to run all its ads across all its apps via the same buying interfaces, it might stick with the 55 percent approach that lets its say creators get the majority of cash earned.

Previously, Instagram only worked with a limited set of celebrities, paying “to offset small production costs” for IGTV content Bloomberg reported, but not offering a way to earn a profit. That left creators to look to sponsored content or product placement to generate cash, or to try to push their followers to platforms like YouTube where they could earn a reliable cut of ads.

A lack of monetization may have contributed to the absence of great content on IGTV. Many of the videos on the Popular page are low-grade rips of YouTube content or TV, or are clickbait teasers. That has led to mediocre view counts — only 7 million of Instagram’s billion-plus users downloading the standalone IGTV app — and Instagram dropping the homescreen button for opening IGTV.

That’s all disappointing considering TIkTok is blowing up on the back of more purposeful, storyboarded mobile video entertainment. Instagram has been looking at other ways to boost the quality of content users see, including today’s launch of unfollow suggestions.

But today, reverse engineering master and perennial TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong tipped us off to the IGTV monetization prototype she dug out of the code of Instagram’s Android app. She tells TechCrunch she first saw signs of the program a week and ago and was then able to generate screenshots of the unreleased feature. It shows an “Instagram Partner Program” with “Monetization Tools.” This seems to be different from the old “Partner Program” for business tool developers.

Users who are deemed “Eligible” according to criteria we don’t have info about could choose to “Monetize Your IGTV Videos.” The screen explains that, “You can earn money by runing short ads on your IGTV videos. When you monetize on IGTV, you agree to follow the Partner Program Monetization Policies.”

It’s not clear IGTV’s monetization policies would be different, but on Facebook they require that users:

  • Follow all its normal Community Standards about decency.
  • Share authentic content without misinformation, false news, clickbait, or sensationalism.
  • Share original content they made themselves.
  • Avoid restricted content categories including debated social issues, tragedy or conflict, objectionable activity, sexual or suggestive activity, strong language, explicit content, misleading medical information, and politics and government.

Instagram confirmed to TechCrunch the authenticity of the prototype it’s been working on and provided the following statement (that it later tweeted): “We continue to explore ways to help creators monetize with IGTV. We don’t have more details to share now, but we will as they develop further.”

Given the company is confirming this as a prototype rather than a feature being beta tested, there are no public mentions. There’s no Instagram Help Center information published about it, and Instagram might not be testing the program externally yet. There’s still a chance Instagram could change directions and never launch the monetization program or alter it entirely before any eventual launch.

Update: Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri has commented on the new feature, replying to me here:

Mosseri’s argument is that monetization hadn’t started sooner because Instagram wanted to ensure there was enough content to monetize. But Instagram had the money and scale to experiment much sooner, and it could have attracted that content to monetize by dangling payment.

IGTV has improved with time as more influencers and publishers get the hang of vertical mid-length video. However, there remains a fair amount of low-quality, unoriginal, overly captioned, meme-style videos promoted on its “Popular” page, at least for me.

The slow march of creator compensation

Creator monetization has been a slow-going evolution on many of the major social networks. While YouTube was early to the space with ads, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are now testing an array of ways for influencers to earn money. Those include ad splits, subscriptions to exclusive content, tipping, connections to brands for sponsorship, merchandise sales and more.

Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier and Nico Grant reported this week that Instagram brought in $20 billion in revenue during 2019. It gets to keep that revenue since it currently doesn’t split any with creators. That contrasts with YouTube, which says it took in $15.1 billion in 2019 revenue this week in the first time it’s revealed the stat, though it has to pay out a substantial portion to creators. With Instagram now running ads in feed, Explore, and Stories, only IGTV and Direct remain as major surfaces lacking ads.

Social apps are wising up and realizing that if they want to keep their creators from straying to competitors and bringing fans with them, it needs to offer ways for people to turn their passion for creating content into a profession. IGTV spent a year and a half trying to get video makers to volunteer for free, and the result wasn’t entertaining. Now Instagram seems ready to share the proceeds if they can bring in viewers together.

Source: Social – TechCrunch

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Instagram drops IGTV button, but only 1% downloaded the app

At most, 7 million of Instagram’s 1 billion-plus users have downloaded its standalone IGTV app in the 18 months since launch. And now, Instagram’s main app is removing the annoying orange IGTV button from its home page in what feels like an admission of lackluster results. For reference, TikTok received 1.15 billion downloads in the same period since IGTV launched in June 2018. In just the US, TikTok received 80.5 million downloads compared to IGTV’s 1.1 million since then, according to research commissioned by TechCrunch from Sensor Tower.

To be fair, TikTok has spent huge sums on install ads. But while long-form mobile video might gain steam as the years progress, Instagram hasn’t seemed to crack the code yet.

“As we’ve continued to work on making it easier for people to create and discover IGTV content, we’ve learned that most people are finding IGTV content through previews in Feed, the IGTV channel in Explore, creators’ profiles and the standalone app. Very few are clicking into the IGTV icon in the top right corner of the home screen in the Instagram app” a Facebook company spokesperson tells TechCrunch. “We always aim to keep Instagram as simple as possible, so we’re removing this icon based on these learnings and feedback from our community.”

Instagram users don’t need the separate IGTV app to watch longer videos, as the IGTV experience is embedded in the main app and can be accessed via in-feed teasers, a tab of the Explore page, promo stickers in Stories, and profile tabs. Still, the fact that it wasn’t an appealing enough destination to warrant a home page button shows IGTV hasn’t become a staple like past Instagram launches including video, Stories, augmented reality filters, or Close Friends.

One thing still missing is an open way for Instagram creators to earn money directly from their IGTV videos. Users can’t get an ad revenue share like with YouTube or Facebook Watch. They also can’t receive tips or sell exclusive content subscriptions like on Facebook, Twitch, or Patreon.

The only financial support Facebook and Instagram have offered IGTV creators is reimbursement for production costs for a few celebrities. Those contracts also require creators to avoid making content related to politics, social issues, or elections, according to Bloomberg‘s Lucas Shaw and Sarah Frier.

“In the last few years we’ve offset small production costs for video creators on our platforms and have put certain guidelines in place,” a Facebook spokesperson told Bloomberg. “We believe there’s a fundamental difference between allowing political and issue-based content on our platform and funding it ourselves.” That seems somewhat hypocritical given Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s criticism of Chinese app TikTok over censorship of political content.

Now users need to tap the IGTV tab inside Instagram Explore to view long-form videoAnother thing absent from IGTV? Large view counts. The first 20 IGTV videos I saw today in its Popular feed all had fewer than 200,000 views. BabyAriel, a creator with nearly 10 million Instagram followers that the company touted as a top IGTV creator has only post 20 of the longer videos to date with only one receiving over 500,000 views.

When the lack of monetization is combined with less than stellar view counts compared to YouTube and TikTok, it’s understandable why some creators might be hesistant to dedicate time to IGTV. Without their content keeping the feature reliably interesting, it’s no surprise users aren’t voluntarily diving in from the home page.

In another sign that Instagram is folding IGTV deeper into its app rather than providing it more breathing room of its own, and that it’s eager for more content, you can now opt to post IGTV videos right from the main Instagram feed post video uploader. AdWeek Social Pro reported this new “long video” upload option yesterday. A Facebook company spokesperson tells me “We want to keep our video upload process as simple as possible” and that “Our goal is to create a central place for video uploads”.

IGTV launched with a zealotish devotion to long-form vertical video despite the fact that little high quality content of this nature was being produced. Landscape orientation is helpful for longer clips that often require establishing shots and fitting multiple people on screen, while vertical was better for quick selfie monologues.

Yet Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom described IGTV to me in August 2018, declaring that “What I’m most proud of is that Instagram took a stand and tried a brand new thing that is frankly hard to pull off. Full-screen vertical video that’s mobile only. That doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

Now it doesn’t exist on Instagram at all since May 2019 when IGTV retreated from its orthodoxy and began allowing landscape content. I’d recommended it do that from the beginning, or at least offer a cropping tool for helping users turn their landscape videos into coherent vertical ones, but nothing’s been launched there either.

If Instagram still cares about IGTV, it needs to attract more must-see videos by helping creators get paid for their art. Or it needs to pour investment into buying high quality programming like Snapchat Discover’s Shows. If Instagram doesn’t care, it should divert development resources to it’s TikTok clone Reels that actually looks very well made and has a shot at stealing market share in the remixable social entertainment space.

For a company that’s won by betting big and moving fast, IGTV feels half-baked and sluggish. That might have been alright when Snapchat was shrinking and TikTok was still Musically, but Instagram is heading into an era of much stiffer competition. Quibi and more want to consume multi-minute spans of video viewing on mobile, and the space could grow as adults familiarize with the format. But offering the platform isn’t enough for Instagram. It needs to actively assist creators with finding what content works, and how to earn sustainable wages marking it.

Source: TechCrunch