YouTube

Ninja raked in nearly $10 million in 2018

Posted by | Entertainment, epic games, fortnite, Gaming, Ninja, TC, Twitch, YouTube | No Comments

Twitch superstar Tyler “Ninja” Blevins has finally settled the debate over just how much he earned in 2018. CNN reports that the gaming phenom pulled in close to $10 million last year, a little tidbit that he revealed to CNN during his press campaign on New Year’s Eve in New York City. (He also tried to get the good people of Times Square to “floss.” They weren’t having it.)

Ninja has more than 20 million subscribers on YouTube, and 12.5 million followers on Twitch, 40,000 of whom are paid subscribers. Ninja told CNN that he thinks of himself as an entrepreneur, comparing his stream to a coffee shop. “They’re gonna find another coffee shop if you’re not there … you have to be there all the time,” he said to CNN.

And when he says “all the time,” he means it. The streamer said he goes live for roughly 12 hours a day, which adds up to about 4,000 hours of gaming over the year.

Part of the money earned from each ad viewed on his YouTube channel, plus part of the profits from bits, donations and monthly subscriptions (ranging from $5, $10 or $25) on Twitch, all head into Ninja’s bank account. And that doesn’t include earnings made from tournament wins and endorsement deals with brands like Uber Eats, Samsung and Red Bull.

It shows just what is possible as esports and Twitch streaming continue to grow. And one of the most influential factors in that growth over 2018 was Fortnite, where streamers and pros not only put on a show for their viewers, but also set a different, far less toxic tone than other gaming communities.

Ninja, for example, decided to stop swearing and using other toxic language as his stream grew in popularity among young people. Other Fortnite streamers, such as NickMercs and Courage, have also fostered more inclusive, supportive communities around their streams.

Epic Games is also doing its part to give streamers like Ninja the format and opportunity to create even more engaging content on their streams through high-stakes tournament and competitive play events, including the Summer and Fall Skirmishes, the Winter Royale and the less-incentivized pop-up cups.

Though $10 million is less than the earnings of top traditional athletes (LeBron James at $36 million and Aaron Rodgers with $67 million, not including endorsements), it’s clear that Ninja and other Fortnite streamers are still very much on the rise.

As long as Epic Games keeps the attention of the gaming community at large, 2019 should see even more financial growth for Ninja and other Fortnite streamers.

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YouTube Music turns its Top Charts into playlists

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, streaming, streaming music, streaming service, YouTube, YouTube Music | No Comments

Earlier this year, Apple Music launched some of its top charts as playlist series. Today, YouTube is doing something similar. The company announced it’s making its YouTube Charts available as playlists in YouTube Music to users across the 29 markets where the music service is live. Each market will receive five of these “charts playlists” — three specific to their country, and two global lists, the company says.

The Top 100 Songs and the Top 100 Music Videos will be offered both as local and global playlists, while the Top 20 Trending Songs will be offered as a local playlist.

This latter playlist is updated several times per day in order to offer a real-time view into current music trends in a specific country. It’s also the first “dedicated external signal of the country’s most-viewed new music on the YouTube platform,” Google explained in a blog post this afternoon.

The other Top 100 Songs and Music Video charts are calculated differently and updated less often. The Top Songs is based on the overall performance of a song on YouTube by view count, which includes counting all the official versions of a song — meaning, the official music video, the user-generated content that uses the official song and lyric videos.

The Top Songs chart is updated weekly, according to YouTube’s documentation on how the charts are calculated.

The Top 100 Music Videos ranks the official music videos by view count in the previous week. It’s also updated weekly.

By comparison, YouTube Music’s Top Songs and Music Videos charts seem to have the potential to be more stale than those on rival services. For example, when Apple announced its Top 100 Songs chart would be available both as global and local playlists, it said it would update them daily at 12 AM PT based on Apple Music streams. Spotify’s top charts are also available both as daily and weekly charts.

“The charts, currently topped globally by Ariana Grande’s ‘thank u, next,‘ are the most accurate reflection of what’s happening in music culture and based purely on the number of views from more than 1 billion global music fans on YouTube each month,” noted the post, which does speak to YouTube Music’s strength.

Apple Music and Spotify are both fighting to break into the triple-digit millions in terms of paying customers, while Spotify is nearing 200 million total actives. But YouTube has a billion-plus users from which to generate its data. That’s not insignificant.

The new charts-turned-playlists are now available in the YouTube Music app. The playlists will appear on users’ home screens and be surfaced through search, says YouTube.

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YouTube rolls out Stories to creators with over 10K subscribers

Posted by | Media, Mobile, stories, Video, videos, YouTube, YouTube Creators | No Comments

A year ago, YouTube launched its own take on Stories, with the addition of a new short-form video format called Reels. The feature, which was rebranded as “YouTube Stories” at last year’s VidCon, was initially available only to select YouTube creators. But in June, YouTube said it would later in the year expand Stories to all creators with more than 10,000 subscribers. Today, it has done just that.

Now, YouTube is beginning to roll out Stories to a wider set of creators, giving them access to the new creation tools that include the ability to decorate the videos with text, stickers, filters and more.

The feature is very much inspired by rival social apps like Snapchat and Instagram — except that,  in YouTube’s case, Stories disappear after 7 days, not 24 hours.

The idea behind YouTube Stories is to give creators an easy way to engage with their fans in-between their more polished and produced videos. Today’s creators are no longer simply turning a camera on and vlogging — they’re creating professional content that requires editing and a lot of work before publication, for the most part.Stories let YouTube’s creators engage with fans in-between videos or while on the go, offering behind-the-scenes access to their creation process, updates, sneak peeks at upcoming videos and more.

Some early adopters of the format include FashionByAllyColin and SamirDR Oficial, ChannelFrederator and Cassandra Bankson. The test group before today was small, and only included creators with more than 70,000 subscribers, we understand.

Once enabled, YouTube creators can film a new Story by opening the YouTube app, tapping on the video camera icon, then selecting “Create Story.”

Also new today is the ability for fans to comment on the Stories.

Viewers can “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” comments and “heart” comments, as well. The same comment moderation tools that are available on YouTube’s video uploads are also available on Stories, the company says. Plus, creators can choose to respond directly to fans’ comments with photos or videos that the whole community can see.

During the week they’re live, YouTube Stories will show up to subscribers on the Subscriptions tab and non-subscribers on Home and in the Up Next list below videos.

Many YouTube creators point their fans to their Instagram for their short-form content and behind-the-scenes action — something that YouTube likely hopes to stem with its launch of Stories.

Today’s expansion brings Stories to a much wider group of creators than before, but YouTube hasn’t said if or when the feature will roll out to its entire user base.

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Facebook Portal needs more. At least it just added YouTube

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Echo Show, Apps, Facebook, Facebook Portal, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, Google Home Hub, hardware, Media, Social, TC, YouTube | No Comments

To offset the creepiness of having Facebook’s camera and microphone in your house, its new Portal video chat gadget needs best-in-class software.  Its hardware is remarkably well done, plus Messenger and the photo frame feature work great. But its third-party app platform was pretty skimpy when the device launched this week.

Facebook is increasingly relying on its smart display competitors to boost Portal’s capabilities. It already comes with Amazon Alexa inside. And now, Google’s YouTube is part of the Portal app platform. “Yes, YouTube.com is available through an optional install in the ‘Portal Apps’ catalog” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. You can open it with a “Hey Portal” command, but there currently seems to be no way to queue up specific videos or control playback via voice.

The addition gives Portal much greater flexibility when it comes to video. Previously it could only play videos from Facebook Watch, Food Network, or Newsy. It also brings the device to closer parity with Google’s Home Hub screen, the Google Assistant-powered smart displays from JBL and Lenovo, and the Amazon Echo Show 2 which Google blocked from using YouTube before Amazon added a web browser to the device to reopen YouTube access.

Read our comparison of the top smart display gadgets

YouTube makes the most of the $349 Portal+’s 15.6-inch 1080p screen, the biggest and sharpest of the smart display crop. Whether for watching shows or recipe videos while making dinner, instructional clips while putting together furniture, or Baby Shark to keep the kids busy, Portal becomes a lot more useful with YouTube.

But we’re still waiting for the most exciting thing Facebook has planned for Portal: Google Assistant. A month ago Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo told me We definitely have been talking to Google as well. We view the future of these home devices . . . as where you will have multiple assistants and you will use them for whatever they do best . . . We’d like to expand and integrate with them.” Now a Facebook spokesperson tells me that they “Don’t have an update on Google Assistant today but we’re working on adding new experiences to Portal.”

The potential to put both Google and Amazon’s voice assistants on one device could make Portal’s software stronger than either competitor’s devices. Many critics have asked if Facebook was naive or calloused to launch Portal in the wak of privacy issues like the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its recent data breach. But as I found when testing the Portal with my 72-year-old mother, not everyone is concerned with Facebook’s privacy problems and instead see Portal as a way for the social network to truly bring them closer to their loved ones. With Amazon and Google racing to win the smart display market, Facebook may see it worth the tech insider backlash to have a shot at mainstream success before its boxed out.

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YouTube is closing the gap with Twitch on live streaming, report finds

Posted by | Creators, games, Gaming, Live, live streaming, Media, streaming, streams, Twitch, YouTube | No Comments

Twitch continues to dominate the live streaming market, with approximately 2.5 billion hours watched by viewers in the third quarter of 2018, according to a new industry report out this morning. While YouTube still trails, it’s begun to close the gap with Twitch, it appears. YouTube’s live streaming platform, YouTube Live, started the year with 15 percent of the overall live streaming market’s viewership, but by September 2018, it had grown to roughly 25 percent of all live streaming hours viewed.

These findings, and more, were the subject of a “state of the industry” report released today by StreamElements, which also dug into what’s making these live streaming sites tick.

Of course, Twitch is still the market leader, with around 750 million monthly viewers, on average, who watched over 813 million hours in September. YouTube Live, by comparison, saw over 226 million hours that month, and Microsoft’s Mixer saw just 13+ million.

Also of note is that Twitch’s growth is now coming from the long tail, the report claims. Its top 100 channels haven’t grown much since the beginning of the year – in fact, they’re down a bit, according to the findings. In January 2018, viewers watch around 262 million hours on the top 100, which dropped to 254 million in September.

In addition, Twitch is growing viewership thanks to its expanded focus outside of gaming content. IRL streaming – meaning, watching creators “in real life” going about their day, vlogging, or participating in other activities, for example – is now one of the site’s most consistently growing categories, with 41 million more hours watched in Q3 2018 than in Q1.

This growth likely impacted Twitch’s recent decision to do away with the overarching “IRL” category to instead break down the content into subcategories like music, food & drink, ASMR, beauty, and more, and other organizational changes to its site.

StreamElements also claims that game streams and other content – but not the competitions known as “esports” –  are what’s attracting viewers.

Esports viewership now makes up 9 to 17 percent of overall Twitch viewership, the report says. (This is consistent with findings Newzoo has reported in past years, as well.)

The report’s data, however, is not first-party – it comes from StreamElements’ position as a production and community management solutions provider for live streamers, which allows it some insight into live streaming trends. The company also partnered with streaming analysts StreamHatchet to compile this report, it says.

That being said, it’s not the only one to point to YouTube’s more recent growth. In StreamLabs’ Q2 report this year, it also found that YouTube’s live gaming streams were on the rise, as was viewership. But StreamLabs tends to look at concurrent streams and viewership, so it’s not a direct comparison.

YouTube recently did away with its standalone YouTube Gaming app, and incorporated gaming content more directly into its main site. This could impact its future growth even more than is reflected in this Q3-focused report.

Finally, the report also found that Fortnite’s popularity may have peaked – it’s still the most watched game on Twitch, but since reaching over 151 million hours watched in July, it’s been shedding viewers. The game saw 20 million fewer hours viewed in August, then dropped by another 25 million hours in September.

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YouTube’s beta program will test stability, not new features

Posted by | Android, beta, Google, Media, TC, videos, YouTube | No Comments

Google sometimes experiments with new features in beta versions of its various Android applications on Google Play. However, the recently spotted YouTube beta program will not, unfortunately, be a testbed for upcoming additions to the video-sharing service. Instead, Google says it only plans to test the stability of the YouTube app at this time, not features.

The company quietly rolled out a YouTube beta program last week on Google Play, where it was soon spotted by the folks at Android Police.

Originally, the belief was that Google would use this new beta to try out features it was planning to bring to the YouTube app — in fact, that’s what Google’s own help documentation about the beta said!

Not only that, but the documentation urged testers not to share information about the features they see in the app until they’re publicly launched.

That all sounds pretty exciting, right? (At least for us early adopters who love to get to mess around with the latest new thing before anyone else.)

But after asking Google for more information on the program, the company updated its help documentation to remove the wording about “experimental features.” It now says testers will only help YouTube to stabilize its app.

We also understand, too, that YouTube has always run a beta program; the only change is that, as of last week, it become more broadly accessible.

Users can now join the program to help YouTube test stability of the app and can then opt out at any time they choose. At this point, however, Google doesn’t plan on trying out new features in the beta build. That could, of course, change at any time in the future. So if you really want to be the first to know, you may want to join the beta program just in case.

But YouTube for a long time now has been testing its new additions by way of server-side testing. It even decided this year to be more public about those tests — disclosing its experiments by way of its @TeamYouTube handle and the Creator Insider channel.

For example, this is where the company first announced its test of a new Explore tab on iPhone a few months ago, and more recently said it would try different ways of inserting ads into videos, to see if users prefer fewer interruptions even if it meant multiple ads per interruption.

YouTube beta program members may or may not be opted into those same experiments, as they roll out. It will depend on if they’re in the testing bucket that’s targeted at that time.

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YouTuber creates concept video showing Fortnite in first-person mode

Posted by | battle royale, epic games, fortnite, Gaming, TC, YouTube | No Comments

Fortnite Battle Royale was undoubtedly the big game of 2017, and 2018 is shaping up to be very similar. And with such popularity inevitably comes a swath of critics.

Take, for example, YouTuber Max Box. Using Fortnite’s replay mode, Max Box created a YouTube video that shows what Fortnite would look like in first-person mode.

The video is slightly buggy, but it’s about as close as we may ever get to seeing what Fortnite would look like in first person.

As it stands now, Fortnite uses third-person view, showing the player a view of themselves and the rest of the world from the perspective of their character’s right shoulder. Because of these mechanics, players are able to peek over cover or around walls without exposing themselves to incoming fire.

Because third-person view allows gamers to see their character in full, it also makes Epic’s main Fortnite revenue generator, premium skins and emotes, all the more valuable.

For those reasons, it seems unlikely that Epic would introduce a first-person mode.

That said, Epic will face new competition in the Battle Royale space with the introduction of CoD: Black Ops 4 Blackout mode on October 12. The game jumps in the ring with Fortnite, PUBG and H1Z1 as a first-person Battle Royale shooter.

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YouTube to shut down standalone Gaming app, as gaming gets a new home on YouTube

Posted by | Apps, Creators, games, Gaming, live streaming, Mobile, Video, YouTube, youtube gaming | No Comments

YouTube will no longer maintain a separate app targeting gaming and live game streaming, the company announced today. The YouTube Gaming app, which first arrived in 2015, will be sunset sometime next spring as its host of features make their way over to YouTube’s main site.

Over the years, the YouTube Gaming app has been a place where YouTube experimented with features catering to game creators and viewers who like to watch live and recorded esports. Here, it tested things like Game Pages to make games more discoverable, Super Chat, and Channel Memberships – features which the Amazon-owned game streaming site Twitch had also popularized among the game community.

Some of YouTube Gaming’s features became so well-received that the company brought them to YouTube. For example, this June YouTube introduced channel memberships to its main site. And before that, it had brought Super Chat – a way for creators to make money from live streams – to its broader community, as well.

But while gaming remains one of YouTube’s top verticals, no one was really using the standalone YouTube Gaming app, the company says.

“We have 200 million people that are logged in, watching gaming content every single day,” Ryan Wyatt, YouTube’s Director of Gaming Content and Partnerships, tells TechCrunch. “And the majority of them, quite frankly, are just not using the YouTube Gaming app for their gaming experiences,” he says.

However, data from Sensor Tower shows the app had over 11 million installs across iOS and Android, and those installs have remained consistent over time. That indicates a large number of people were at least willing to try the app. But the firm also found that its daily users were a “tiny fraction” of Twitch’s on iOS, which confirms Wyatt’s point about lack of usage.

Instead, gamers are logging into YouTube to watch gaming, Wyatt explains.

They watch a lot of gaming, too – over the last twelve months, fans streamed more than 50 billion hours of gaming content, and YouTube has over 500,000 quarterly active live gaming streamers.

In other words, YouTube’s decision to sunset the standalone app should not be seen as an admission that it’s ceding this space to Twitch – rather, that it’s now deciding to use the power of YouTube’s flagship app to better compete.

On that front, the company is today launching a new YouTube Gaming destination at youtube.com/gaming. The destination is first available in the U.S., and will roll out globally in the months ahead.

A link to the new vertical will appear in the left-side navigation bar, where you find other top-level sections like Trending and Subscriptions.

The Gaming destination will feature personalized content at the top of the page, based on what you like to watch, along with top live games, the latest gaming videos from your subscriptions, and dedicated shelves for live streams and trending videos.

Another feature, “gaming creator on the rise,” will highlight up-and-coming gaming creators who are still trying to build an audience. That’s something that many say is still an issue on Amazon-owned Twitch – often, their early days are spent streaming to no one. They soon find that they need the blessing of an existing influencer to bring more viewers to their channel.

Wyatt points out, too, that YouTube Gaming won’t be all about live streams.

“The other thing that we learned through this process was that the gaming app, and the narrative around it, was very heavily live-focused. Everybody always talked about all the live streaming and live gaming,” he says. “But what that did was underserve the vast gaming

business. So by moving it over to YouTube main, you have this beautiful combination of both the living gaming streams that are continuing to grow massively on YouTube, as well as all the other VOD content on the platform.”

There are several things that YouTube’s new Gaming destination still lacks, however. Most notably, the ability to live stream gameplay right from your phone.

That’s why the YouTube Gaming app won’t immediately disappear. Instead, it will stick around until March or maybe even April 2019, while YouTube works on porting the experience over to its main site and app.

“We’re still working through that,” Wyatt admits, when asked how the live streaming component will come to YouTube proper. “We haven’t made a decision on if [live game streaming] will be in there by March, but we do need to have a solution for easy mobile capture from the phone,” he says.

The YouTube Gaming app was never a global release, as it was only live in select markets, we should note. YouTube’s Gaming vertical will eventually be launched worldwide. That could make it more of a challenge to Twitch, as it taps into the eyeballs of YouTube’s 1.8 billion users, while also expanding to take advantage of other new YouTube features like Premieres or Merchandise.

“It’s a great opportunity to use those features,” Wyatt notes, regarding the shift from YouTube Gaming to YouTube proper. “And we’re going to keep creating more features that will that will really lend themselves to live, but ultimately we’ll be thinking about really unique ways to apply them to VOD as well,” he says.

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YouTube Kids adds a whitelisting parental control feature, plus a new experience for tweens

Posted by | children, families, kids, Media, Mobile, parental controls, parents, streaming video, TC, Video, YouTube, youtube kids | No Comments

YouTube Kids’ latest update is giving parents more control over what their kids watch. Following a change earlier this year that allowed parents to limit viewing options to human-reviewed channels, YouTube today is adding another feature that will give parents the ability to explicitly whitelist every channel or video they want to be available to their children through the app.

Additionally, YouTube Kids is launching an updated experience to serve the needs of a slightly older demographic: tween viewers ages 8 through 12. This mode adds new content, like popular music and gaming videos.

The company had promised in April these changes were in the works, but didn’t note when they’d be going live.

With the manual whitelisting feature, parents can visit the app’s Settings, go to their child’s profile, and toggle on an “Approved Content Only” option. They can then handpick the videos they want their kids to have access to watch through the YouTube Kids app.

Parents can opt to add any video, channel, or collection of channels they like by tapping the “+” button, or they can search for a specific creator or video through this interface.

Once this mode is enabled, kids will no longer be able to search for content on their own.

While this is a lot of manual labor on parents’ part, it does serve the needs of those with very young children who aren’t comfortable with YouTube Kids’ newer “human-reviewed channels” filtering option, as mistakes could still slip through.

A “human-reviewed” channel means that a YouTube moderator has watched several videos on the channel, to determine if the content is generally appropriate and kid-friendly, but it doesn’t mean every single video that is later added to the channel will be human-reviewed.

Instead, future uploads to the channel will only go through YouTube’s algorithmic layers of security, the company has said.

YouTube Kids expands to tweens

The other new feature now arriving will update YouTube Kids for an older audience who’s beginning to outgrow the preschool-ish look-and-feel of the app, and the way it sometimes pushes content that’s “for babies,” as my 8-year old would put it.

Instead, parents will be able to turn on the “Older” content level setting that opens up YouTube Kids to include less restricted content for kids ages 8 to 12.

According to the company, this includes music and gaming videos – which is basically something like 90% of kids’ YouTube watching at this age. (Not an official stat. Just what it feels like over here.)

The “Younger” option will continue to feature things like sing-alongs and other age-appropriate educational videos, but YouTube Kids’ “Older” mode will let kids watch different kinds of videos, like music videos, gaming video, shows, nature and wildlife videos, and more.

YouTube stresses to parents that its ability to filter content isn’t perfect – inappropriate content could still slip through. It needs parents to participate by blocking and flagging videos, as that comes up.

It’s best if kids continue to watch YouTube while in parents’ presence, of course, and without headphones, or on the big screen in the living room where you can moderate kids’ viewing yourself.

But there are times when you need to use YouTube as the babysitter or a distraction so you can get things done. The new whitelisting option could help parents feel more comfortable letting their kids loose on the app.

Meanwhile, older kids will appreciate the expanded freedom. (And you won’t be constantly begged for your own phone where “regular YouTube” is installed, as a result.)

YouTube says the parental controls are rolling today globally on Android and coming soon to iOS. The “Older” option is rolling out now in the U.S. and will expand globally in the future.

Correction: An earlier version of this post referenced the lack of a blacklisting feature. This was incorrect – blacklisting by channel or video is possible. This section was removed shortly after publishing. Apologies for the error. 

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For IGTV, Instagram needs slow to mean steady

Posted by | Apps, Casey Neistat, Facebook, IGTV, instagram, Josh Elman, Kevin Systrom, Media, Michael Sayman, Mobile, Opinion, shots, Social, TC, Tiffany Zhong, YouTube | No Comments

Instagram has never truly failed at anything, but judging by modest initial view counts, IGTV could get stuck with a reputation as an abandoned theater if the company isn’t careful. It’s no flop, but the long-form video hub certainly isn’t an instant hit like Instagram Stories. Two months after that launched in 2016, Instagram was happy to trumpet how its Snapchat clone had hit 100 million users. Yet two months after IGTV’s launch, the Facebook subsidiary has been silent on its traction.

“It’s a new format. It’s different. We have to wait for people to adopt it and that takes time,” Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told me. “Think of it this way: we just invested in a startup called IGTV, but it’s small, and it’s like Instagram was ‘early days.’”

It’s indeed too early for a scientific analysis, and Instagram’s feed has been around since 2010, so it’s obviously not a fair comparison, but we took a look at the IGTV view counts of some of the feature’s launch partner creators. Across six of those creators, their recent feed videos are getting roughly 6.8X as many views as their IGTV posts. If IGTV’s launch partners that benefited from early access and guidance aren’t doing so hot, it means there’s likely no free view count bonanza in store from other creators or regular users.

They, and IGTV, will have to work for their audience. That’s already proving difficult for the standalone IGTV app. Though it peaked at the #25 overall US iPhone app and has seen 2.5 million downloads across iOS and Android according to Sensor Tower, it’s since dropped to #1497 and seen a 94 percent decrease in weekly installs to just 70,000 last week.

Instagram will have to be in it for the long haul if it wants to win at long-form video. Entering the market 13 years after YouTube with a vertical format no one’s quite sure what to do with, IGTV must play the tortoise. If it can avoid getting scrapped or buried, and offer the right incentives and flexibility to creators, IGTV could deliver the spontaneous video viewing experience Instagram lacks. Otherwise, IGTV risks becoming the next Google Plus — a ghost town inside an otherwise thriving product ecosystem.

A glitzy, glitchy start

Instagram gave IGTV a red carpet premiere June 20th in hopes of making it look like the new digital hotspot. The San Francisco launch event offered attendees several types of avocado toast, spa water and ‘Gram-worthy portrait backdrops reminiscent of the Color Factory or Museum of Ice Cream. Instagram hadn’t held a flashy press event since the 2013 launch of video sharing, so it pulled out all the stops. Balloon sculptures lined the entrance to a massive warehouse packed with social media stars and ad execs shouting to each other over the din of the DJ.

But things were rocky from the start. Leaks led TechCrunch to report on the IGTV name and details in the preceding weeks. Technical difficulties with Systrom’s presentation pushed back the start, but not the rollout of IGTV’s code. Tipster Jane Manchun Wong sent TechCrunch screenshots of the new app and features a half hour before it was announced, and Instagram’s own Business Blog jumped the gun by posting details of the launch. The web already knew how IGTV would let people upload vertical videos up to an hour long and browse them through categories like “Popular” and “For You” by the time Systrom took the stage.

IGTV’s launch event featured Instagram-themed donuts and elaborate portrait backdrops. Images via Vicki’s Donuts and Mai Lanpham

“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,” Systrom tells me. It was indeed ambitious. Creators were already comfortable making short-form vertical Snapchat Stories by the time Instagram launched its own version. IGTV would have to start from scratch.

Systrom sees the steep learning curve as a differentiator, though. “One of the things I like most about the new format is that it’s actually fairly difficult to just take videos that exist online and simply repost them. That’s not true in feed. That basically forces everyone to create new stuff,” Systrom tells me. “It’s not to say that there isn’t other stuff on there but in general it incentivizes people to produce new things from scratch. And that’s really what we’re looking for. Even if the volume of that stuff at the beginning is smaller than what you might see on the popular page [of Instagram Explore].”

Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom unveils IGTV at the glitzy June 20th launch event

Instagram forced creators to adopt this proprietary format. But it forget to train Stories stars how to entertain us for five or 15 minutes, not 15 seconds, or convince landscape YouTube moguls to purposefully shoot or crop their clips for the way we normally hold our phones.

IGTV’s Popular page features plenty of random viral pap, foreign language content, and poor cropping

That should have been the real purpose of the launch party — demonstrating a variety of ways to turn these format constraints or lack thereof into unique content. Vertical video frames people better than places, and the length allows sustained eye-to-lens contacts that can engender an emotional connection. But a shallow array of initial content and too much confidence that creators would figure it out on their own deprived IGTV of emergent norms that other videographers could emulate to wet their feet.

Now IGTV feels haphazard, with trashy viral videos and miscropped ports amongst its Popular section alongside a few creators trying to produce made-for-IGTV talk shows and cooking tutorials. It’s yet to have its breakout “Chewbacca Mom” or “Rubberbanded Watermelon” blockbuster like Facebook Live. Even an interview with mega celeb Kylie Jenner only had 11,000 views.

Instagram wants to put the focus on the author, not the individual works of art. “Because we don’t have full text search and you can’t just search any random thing, it’s about the creators” Systrom explains. “I think that at its base level that it’s personality driven and creator driven means that you’re going to get really unique content that you won’t find anywhere else and that’s the goal.”

Yet being unique requires extra effort that creators might not invest if they’re unsure of the payoff in either reach or revenue. Michael Sayman, formerly Facebook’s youngest employee who was hired at age 17 to build apps for teens and who now works for Google, summed it up saying: “Many times in my own career, I’ve tried to make something with a unique spin or a special twist because I felt that’s the only way I could make my product stand out from the crowd, only to realize that it was those very twists and spins that made my products feel out of place and confusing to users. Sometimes, the best product is one that doesn’t create any new twists, but rather perfects and builds on top of what has been proven to already be extremely successful.”

A fraction of feed views

The one big surprise of the launch event was where IGTV would exist. Instagram announced it’d live in a standalone IGTV app, but also as a feature in the main app accessible from an orange button atop the home screen that would occasionally call out that new content was inside. It could have had its own carousel like Stories or been integrated into Explore until it was ready for primetime.

Instead, it was ignorable. IGTV didn’t get the benefit of the home screen spotlight like Instagram Stories. Blow past that one orange button and avoid downloading the separate app, and users could go right on tapping and scrolling through Instagram without coming across IGTV’s longer videos.

View counts of the launch partners reflect that. We looked at six launch partner creators, comparing their last six feed and IGTV videos older than a week and less than six months old, or fewer videos if that’s all they’d posted.

Only one of the six, BabyAriel, saw an obvious growth trend in her IGTV videos. Her candid IGTV monologues are performing the best of the six compared to feed. She’s earning an average of 243,000 views per IGTV video, about a third as many as she gets on her feed videos. “I’m really happy with my view counts because IGTV is just starting” BabyAriel tells me. She thinks the format will be good for behind-the-scenes clips that complement her longer YouTube videos and shorter Stories. “When I record anything, It’s vertical. When I turn my phone horizontal I think of an hour-long movie.”

Lele Pons, a Latin American comedy and music star who’s one of the most popular Instagram celebrities, gets about 5.7X more feed views than on her IGTV cooking show that averages 1.9 million hits. Instagram posted some IGTV highlights from the first month, but the most popular of now has 4.3 million views — less than half of what Pons gets on her average feed video.

Fitness guides from Katie Austin averaged just 3,600 views on IGTV while she gets 7.5X more in the feed. Lauren Godwin’s colorful comedy fared 5.2X better in the feed. Bryce Xavier saw the biggest differential, earning 15.9X more views for his dance and culture videos. And in the most direct comparison, K-Pop dancer Susie Shu sometimes posts cuts from the same performance to the two destinations, like one that got 273,000 views in feed but just 27,000 on IGTV, with similar clips fairing an average of 7.8X better.

Again, this isn’t to say IGTV is a lame horse. It just isn’t roaring out of the gates. Systrom remains optimistic about inventing a new format. “The question is can we pull that off and the early signs are really good,” he tells me. “We’ve been pretty blown away by the reception and the usage upfront,” though he declined to share any specific statistics. Instagram promised to provide more insight into traction in the future.

YouTube star Casey Neistat is less bullish. He doesn’t think IGTV is working and that engagement has been weak. If IGTV views were surpassing those of YouTube, creators would flock to it, but so far view counts are uninspiring and not worth diverting creative attention, Neistat says. “YouTube offers the best sit-back consumption, and Stories offers active consumption. Where does IGTV fit in? I’m not sure” he tells me. “Why create all of this unique content if it gets lower views, it’s not monetizable, and the viewers aren’t there?”

Susie Shu averages 7.8X more video views in the Instagram feed than on IGTV

For now, the combination of an unfamiliar format, the absence of direction for how to use it and the relatively buried placement has likely tempered IGTV’s traction. Two months in, Instagram Stories was proving itself an existential threat to Snapchat — which it’s in fact become. IGTV doesn’t pose the same danger to YouTube yet, and it will need a strategy to support a more slow-burn trajectory.

The chicken and the IG problem

The first step to becoming a real YouTube challenger is to build up some tent-pole content that gives people a reason to open IGTV. Until there’s something that captures attention, any cross-promotion traffic Instagram sends it will be like pouring water into a bucket with a giant hole in the bottom. Yet until there’s enough viewers, it’s tough to persuade creators to shoot for IGTV since it won’t do a ton to boost their fan base.

Fortnite champion Ninja shares a photo of IGTV launch partners gathered backstage at the press event

Meanwhile, Instagram hasn’t committed to a monetization or revenue-sharing strategy for IGTV. Systrom said at the launch that “There’s no ads in IGTV today,” but noted it’s “obviously a very reasonable place [for ads] to end up.” Without enough views, though, ads won’t earn enough for a revenue split to incentivize creators. Perhaps Instagram will heavily integrate its in-app shopping features and sponsored content partnerships, but even those rely on having more traffic. Vine withered at Twitter in part from creators bailing due to its omission of native monetization options.

So how does IGTV solve the chicken-and-egg problem? It may need to swallow its pride and pay early adopters directly for content until it racks up enough views to offer sustainable revenue sharing. Instagram has never publicly copped to paying for content before, unlike its parent Facebook, which offered stipends ranging into the millions of dollars for publishers to shoot Live broadcasts and long-form Watch shows. Neither have led to a booming viewership, but perhaps that’s because Facebook has lost its edge with the teens who love video.

Instagram could do better if it paid the right creators to weather IGTV’s initial slim pickings. Settling on ad strategy creators can count on earning money from in the future might also get them to hang tight. Those deals could mimic the 55 percent split of mid-roll ad breaks Facebook gives creators on some videos. But again, the views must come first.

Alternatively, or additionally, it could double down on the launch strategy of luring creators with the potential to become the big fish in IGTV’s small-for-now pond. Backroom deals to trade being highlighted in its IGTV algorithm in exchange for high-quality content could win the hearts of these stars and their managers. Instagram would be wise to pair these incentives with vertical long-form video content creation workshops. It could bring its community, product and analytics leaders together with partnered stars to suss out what works best in the format and help them shoot it.

The cross-promo spigot

Once there’s something worth watching on IGTV, the company could open the cross-promo traffic spigot. At first, Instagram would send notifications about top content or IGTV posts from people you follow, and call them out with a little orange text banner atop its main app. Now it seems to understand it will need to be more coercive.

Last month, TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong spotted Instagram showing promos for individual IGTV shows in the middle of the feed, hoping to redirect eyeballs there. And today, TechCrunch researcher Matt Navarra found Instagram getting more aggressive by putting a bigger call out featuring a relevant IGTV clip with preview image above your Stories tray on the home screen. It may need to boost the frequency of these cross-promotions and stick them in-between Stories and Explore sections as well to give IGTV the limelight. These could expose users to creators they don’t follow already but might enjoy.

It’s still early but I do think there’s a lot of potential when they figure out two things since the feature is so new,” says John Shahidi, who runs the Justin Bieber-backed Shots Studios, which produces and distributes content for Lele Pons, Rudy Mancuso and other Insta celebs. “1. Product. IGTV is not in your face so Instagram users aren’t changing behavior to consume. Timeline and Instagram Stories are in your face so those two are the most used features. 2. Discoverability. I want to see videos from people I don’t follow. Interesting stuff like cooking, product review, interesting content from brands but without following the accounts.” In the meantime, Shots Studios is launching a vertical-only channel on YouTube that Shahidi believes is the first of its kind.

Instagram will have to balance its strategic imperative to grow the long-form video hub and avoid spamming users until they hate the brand as a whole. Some think it’s already gone too far. “I think it’s super intrusive right now,” says Tiffany Zhong, once known as the world’s youngest venture capitalist who now runs Generation Z consulting firm Zebra Intelligence. “I personally find all the IGTV videos super boring and click out within seconds (and the only time I watch them are if I accidentally tapped on the icon when I tried to go to my DMs instead).” Desperately funneling traffic to the feature before there’s enough great content to power relevant recommendations for everyone could prematurely sour users on IGTV. 

Systrom remains optimistic he can iterate his way to success. “What I want to see over the next six to 12 months is a consistent drumbeat of new features that both consumers and creators are asking for, and to look at the retention curve and say ‘are people continuing to watch? Are people continuing to upload?,’” says Systrom. “So far we are seeing that all of those are healthy. But again trying to judge a very new kind of audacious format that’s never really been done before in the first months is going to be really hard.”

Differentiator or deterrent?

The biggest question remains whether IGTV will remain devout to the orthodoxy of vertical-only. Loosening up to accept landscape videos too might nullify a differentiator, but also pipe in a flood of content it could then algorithmically curate to bootstrap IGTV’s library. Reducing the friction by allowing people to easily port content to or from elsewhere might make it feel like less of a gamble for creators deciding where to put their production resources. Instagram itself expanded from square-only to portrait and landscape photos in the feed in 2015.

My advice would be to make the videos horizontal. We’ve all come to understand vertical as ‘short form’ and horizontal as ‘long form,’” says Sayman. “It’s in the act of rotating your phone to landscape that you indicate to yourself and to your mobile device that you will not be context switching for the next few minutes, but rather intend to focus on one piece of content for an extended period of time.” This would at least give users more to watch, even if they ended up viewing landscape videos with their phones in portrait orientation.

This might be best as a last-ditch effort if it can’t get enough content flowing in through other means. But at least Instagram should offer a cropping tool that lets users manually select what vertical slice of a landscape video they want to show as they watch, rather than just grabbing the center or picking one area on the side for the whole clip. This could let creators repurpose landscape videos without things getting awkwardly half cut out of frame.

Former Facebook employee and social investor Josh Elman, who now works at Robinhood, told me he’s confident the company will experiment as much as necessary. “I think Facebook is relentless. They know that a ton of consumers watch video online. And most discover videos through influencers or their friends. (Or Netflix). Even though Watch and IGTV haven’t taken the world by storm yet, I bet Facebook won’t stop until they find the right mix.”

There’s a goldmine waiting if it does. Unlike on Facebook, there’s no Regram feature, you can’t post links, and outside of Explore you just see who you already follow on Instagram. That’s made it great at delivering friendly video and clips from your favorite stars, but leaves a gaping hole where serendipitous viewing could be. IGTV fills that gap. The hours people spend on Facebook watching random videos and their accompanying commercials have lifted the company to over $13 billion in revenue per quarter. Giving a younger audience a bottomless pit of full-screen video could produce the same behavior and profits on Instagram without polluting the feed, which can remain the purest manifestation of visual feed culture. But that’s only if IGTV can get enough content uploaded.

Puffed up by the success of besting its foe Snapchat, Instagram assumed it could take the long-form video world by storm. But the grand entrance at its debutante ball didn’t draw enough attention. Now it needs to take a different tack. Tone down the cross-promo for the moment. Concentrate on teaching creators how to find what works on the format and incentivizing them with cash and traffic. Develop some must-see IGTV and stoke a viral blockbuster. Prove the gravity of extended, personality-driven vertical video. Only then should it redirect traffic there from the feed, Stories, and Explore.

YouTube’s library wasn’t built overnight, and neither will IGTV’s. Facebook’s deep pockets and the success of Instagram’s other features give it the runway necessary to let IGTV take off. With 1 billion monthly users, and 400 million daily Stories users gathered in just two years, there are plenty of eyeballs waiting to be seduced. Systrom concludes, “Everything that is great starts small.” IGTV’s destiny will depend on Instagram’s patience.

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