Instagram announced a new long-form video platform called IGTV at an event earlier this week. It expands the runtime for videos on Instagram from one minute to up to one hour, and it'll be available as a stand-alone app and as part of the main Instagram app.
IGTV is Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) second long-form video hub, after the company released Facebook Watch last year. IGTV will be a bit different than Watch. IGTV is focused on mobile and homegrown talent, whereas Facebook is spending hundreds of millions seeding Watch with premium content best consumed on a larger screen (like sporting events).
Overall, IGTV mixes some features from Snap's (NYSE:SNAP) Snapchat and other ingredients from YouTube, which falls under the Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) umbrella of companies. IGTV is Facebook's latest attempt at taking on the massive opportunity in ad-supported digital video.
If at first you don't succeed...
IGTV isn't the first time Facebook has borrowed ideas from other companies. It tried several times to copy Snapchat features before hitting paydirt with Instagram Stories. It quickly expanded that to its other apps, including WhatsApp Status, which has become even more popular than Instagram Stories.
Facebook has a lot of failed products in its past. And that's by design. Facebook, with its broad user base and piles of cash coming in every quarter, has the ability to experiment with new product features. It takes lots of swings to hit a home run.
Facebook Watch hasn't quite hit it out of the park. That said, it's not a complete dud, either. But IGTV presents another approach that could find a bigger audience.
IGTV hopes to attract creative talent found on YouTube and other social media platforms, including its own, and give that talent a place to reach an audience that now totals 1 billion monthly active users. Everday Instagram users looking to share longer videos will be able to add videos to the platform, too, just like YouTube. The mobile-first format -- vertical videos, simple browsing interface -- borrows from Snapchat's Discover section.
U.S. adults will spend more time on mobile devices next year than they do watching TV, according to market researcher eMarketer. Mobile is also the primary way people use Instagram, despite the ability to access the app through an internet browser. So, the focus on an excellent mobile experience is paramount to IGTV. YouTube's mobile app is popular, but its user interface isn't particularly inspiring.
Do Snapchat or YouTube have anything to worry about?
Snap saw a significant slowdown in user growth after Instagram released Stories. Whether IGTV could result in similar pressure remains to be seen. Snap's Discover section, where it displays longer-form content from media partners, was never as popular as its Stories, whether from friends or celebrities. But it is a section of the app that continues to differentiate the product from competitors like Instagram. With IGTV, Instagram is diminishing that differentiation, and users could have even fewer reasons to open the Snapchat app.
Snap is already facing its own challenges in user growth after a botched app redesign. It saw its active users decline in March, and there's no indication that things improved in the second quarter. IGTV will only put further pressure on the metric.
YouTube, however, seems much better positioned. The use cases for YouTube are much more varied than general entertainment, and include things like educational/instructional videos and music. Those aren't the areas IGTV is focused on, at least not at first. Furthermore, it has easily withstood Facebook's Watch efforts so far.
There's no telling whether IGTV will find a significant audience. Facebook certainly seems dead set on getting into the long-form video content area. Even if IGTV fails, Facebook can take what it learns and try again until it gets a hit, just as it's done in the past.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Adam Levy owns shares of Alphabet (C shares) and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.