Creators are giving Instagram TV another look just as it plans to open a revenue-sharing program akin to YouTube’s AdSense.
Instagram has been discussing a plan to run ads in IGTV since at least last year, and it is expected to finally launch in March, according to people familiar with the program.
The prospect of advertising already has attracted talent back into the fold. For instance, Lele Pons, an Instagram star with 38.8 million followers and an original creator on IGTV, plans to reprise her cooking show in the coming months, according to John Shahidi, CEO of Shots Studios, which is the production and management company behind Pons and other top Instagram talent.
Pons was one of the first creators to join IGTV when it launched in 2018 with her show “What’s Cooking With Lele Pons.” Shots Studios stopped producing the show after its initial run, but is now coming back, Shahidi says. Pons is also considering developing another three programs for IGTV.
Instagram has been asking Pons to return to IGTV, Shahidi says. Shots Studios knew that advertising would eventually follow, “but we’re also not the kinds of people who are waiting for monetization,” Shahidi says.
A gateway to brand deals
Pons is more concerned with maintaining her presence on all parts of Instagram, and IGTV is clearly a growth area for the company, Shahidi says. IGTV can be a gateway to brand deals that could be more valuable than direct advertising revenue, Shahidi says. “There’s other ways to make money on Instagram,” Shahidi says. “There’s other opportunities to monetize on Instagram because we have so many different brand partners.”
Pons and other Shots Studios stars do brand deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to mention companies in their videos and place their products in photos. They are part of the influencer marketing economy, where brands hire the most popular social media accounts to help spread their message on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and elsewhere.
YouTube and Facebook, which owns Instagram, both have advertising revenue-sharing programs that give creators a split of the money from commercials served into their videos. It’s an ad-supported online video market that is exploding as traditional TV slips in popularity especially among younger viewers. The digital platforms have fostered a new type of content creation that is user-generated and opens a space for brands to run commercials on mobile devices and connected TVs.
In 2018, Instagram launched IGTV, touting talent like Pons and Richard Tyler Blevins—the video game streamer known as Ninja. Instagram was looking to develop an ecosystem of talent that could rival YouTube and complement Facebook’s streaming program called Watch. On Watch, Facebook also splits ad revenue with creators, publishers and TV studios through a program it calls Ad Breaks.
Facebook’s streaming video advertising program has had limited success, however, since it launched in 2017. There have been questions about how much interest there is from viewers to watch longer-form videos on Facebook, and advertisers have been concerned about brand safety issues.
Whether it’s Facebook or YouTube, advertisers want to know exactly where their ads run, the types of videos that feature their ads, and what channels they are supporting. Brands have been burned on digital platforms before, with ads running alongside inappropriate content, and both Facebook and YouTube have been developing tools to provide more transparency and controls.
IGTV opens another front for Facebook’s video ad ecosystem. It’s a place to concentrate creators and produce advertiser-friendly programs. However, it has been slow to take off, too. Pons stopped producing her show, for instance.
“We’ve been a believer in the product from day one,” Shahidi says. “We’ve been a believer in the idea since day one. The problem Instagram had with IGTV is it had product issues.”
Instagram has worked on some of those issues by making it easier to promote IGTV shows inside the main Instagram feed. Instagram has more than 1 billion active users, according to Facebook. Instagram also built horizontal video into IGTV instead of solely relying on the vertical format popular on mobile phones.
Creators are interested in horizontal video because those translate more easily to connected TV apps, when people watch on their larger screens at home. Shahidi says Instagram still needs to invest in a connected TV app that could run on smart TVs and devices like Apple TV.
“If they'd have launched fully featured, with things like placement in Instagram feed and incentives for creators to actually consider it,” says Jack Appleby, strategy director at ad agency R/GA, “I think they could've been a huge player in long-form content. Now they're fighting how bad their first impressions are.”
“We continue to explore ways to help creators monetize with IGTV,” an Instagram spokeswoman said in an email statement. “We don’t have more details to share now, but we will as they develop further.”
Publishers and brands still maintain interest in IGTV. For instance, ATTN recently produced a program with former First Lady Michelle Obama called “A Year of Firsts.”
Instagram has paid to produce some of the programs for IGTV, according to people familiar with the business model. Facebook is expected to spend close to $1.5 billion producing shows in 2020, according to The Information.
One publishing executive who spoke for this story on condition of anonymity says that IGTV has yet to become a priority while media companies focus more on other parts of Instagram, YouTube and up-and-coming platforms like TikTok. IGTV has been a place to stick videos that have already been produced for other channels, the publishing executive says.
“We were told way back when that Instagram had ambitions to monetize and that’s been an ongoing conversation," the executive says. “But it hasn’t been lucrative yet, so you don’t necessarily need to invest time and money specifically into IGTV.”