Instagram’s meteoric rise continues, dwarfing the stagnant growth rates of Snapchat and Facebook. Today Instagram announced that it has reached 1 billion monthly active users, after reaching 800 million in September 2017 with 500 million daily users.
That massive audience could be a powerful draw for IGTV, the longer-form video hub its launching for creators today. While IGTV monetization options are expected in the future, content makers may flock to it early just to get exposure and build their fan base.
While Snapchat’s daily user count grew just 2.13 percent in Q1 2018 to 191 million, and Facebook’s monthly count grew 3.14 percent to reach 2.196 billion, Instagram is growing closer to 5 percent per quarter.
Hitting the 1 billion user milestone could put more pressure on Instagram to carry its weight in the Facebook family and bring home more cash. Facebook doesn’t break out Instagram’s revenue and has never given any guidance about it. But eMarketer estimates that Instagram will generate $5.48 billion in US ad revenue in 2018, up 70 percent from last year. It reports that Instagram makes up 28.2 pecent of Facebook’s mobile ad revenue.
The Instagram brand increasingly looks like Facebook’s life raft. Sentiment towards Facebook, especially amongst teens, has been in decline, and its constantly rocked by privacy scandals. But many users don’t even realize Facebook owns Instagram, and still love the photo sharing app. With the 1 billion user badge, businesses and content creators may take the photo and video app even more seriously. Selling windows into your friends’ worlds is a lucrative business.
TechCrunch has learned that the Instagram longer-form video hub that’s launching tomorrow is called IGTV and it will be part of the Explore tab, according to multiple sources. Instagram has spent the week meeting with online content creators to encourage them to prepare videos closer to 10-minute YouTube vlogs than the 1-minute maximum videos the app allows today.
Instagram is focusing its efforts around web celebrities that made their name on mobile rather than more traditional, old-school publishers and TV studios that might come off too polished and processed. The idea is to let these creators, who have a knack for this style of content and who already have sizeable Instagram audiences, set the norms for what IGTV is about.
Instagram declined to comment on the name IGTV and the video hub’s home in app’s Explore tab. We’ll get more information at the feature’s launch event in San Francisco tomorrow at 9am Pacific.
Following the WSJ’s initial report that Instagram was working on allowing longer videos, TechCrunch learned much more from sources about the company’s plan to build an aggregated destination for watching this content akin to Snapchat Discover. The videos will be full-screen, vertically oriented, and can have a resolution up to 4K. Users will be greeted with collection of Popular recent videos, and the option to Continue Watching clips they didn’t finish.
The videos aren’t meant to compete with Netflix Originals or HBO-quality content. Instead, they’ll be the kind of things you might see on YouTube rather than the short, off-the-cuff social media clips Instagram has hosted to date. Videos will offer a link-out option so creators can drive traffic to their other social presences, websites, or ecommerce stores. Instagram is planning to offer direct monetization, potentially including advertising revenue shares, but hasn’t finalized how that will work.
Based on its historic growth trajectory that has seen Instagram adding 100 million users every four months, and its announcement of 800 million in September 2017, it’s quite possible that Instagram will announce it’s hit 1 billion monthly users tomorrow. That could legitimize IGTV as a place creators want to be for exposure, not just monetization.
IGTV could create a new behavior pattern for users who are bored of their friends’ content, or looking for something to watch in between Direct messages. If successful, Instagram might even consider breaking out IGTV into its own mobile app, or building it an app for smart TVs
The launch is important for Facebook because it lacks a popular video destination since its Facebook Watch hub was somewhat of a flop. Facebook today said it would expand Watch to more creators, while also offering new interactive video tools to let them make their own HQ trivia-style game shows. Facebook also launched its Brand Collabs Manager that helps businesses find creators to sponsor. That could help IGTV stars earn money through product placement or sponsored content.
Until now, video consumption in the Facebook family of apps has been largely serendipitous, with users stumbling across clips in their News Feed. IGTV will let it more directly compete with YouTube, where people purposefully come to watch specific videos from their favorite creators. But YouTube was still built in the web era with a focus on horizontal video that’s awkward to watch on iPhones or Androids.
With traditional television viewership slipping, Facebook’s size and advertiser connections could let it muscle into the lucrative space. But rather than try to port old-school TV shows to phones, IGTV could let creators invent a new vision for television on mobile.
Tweeting our article, Systrom wrote “It’s true . . . We’re building tools that will help the IG community know more about the time they spend on Instagram – any time should be positive and intentional . . . Understanding how time online impacts people is important, and it’s the responsibility of all companies to be honest about this. We want to be part of the solution. I take that responsibility seriously.”
Now we have our first look at the tool via Jane Manchun Wong, who’s recently become one of TechCrunch’s favorite sources thanks to her skills at digging new features out of apps’ Android APK code. Though Usage Insights might change before an official launch, these screenshots give us an idea of what Instagram will include. We’ve reached out to Instagram for comment, and will update if we hear back.
This unlaunched version of Instagram’s Usage Insights tool offers users a daily tally of their minutes spent on the app. They’ll be able to set a time spent daily limit, and get a reminder once they exceed that. There’s also a shortcut to manage Instagram’s notifications so the app is less interruptive. Instagram has been spotted testing a new hamburger button that opens a slide-out navigation menu on the profile. That might be where the link for Usage Insights shows up, judging by this screenshot.
Instagram doesn’t appear to be going so far as to lock you out of the app after your limit, or fading it to grayscale which might annoy advertisers and businesses. But offering a handy way to monitor your usage that isn’t buried in your operating system’s settings could make users more mindful.
Instagram has an opportunity to be a role model here, especially if it gives its Usage Insights feature sharper teeth. For example, rather than a single notification when you hit your daily limit, it could remind you every 15 minutes after, or create some persistent visual flag so you know you’ve broken your self-imposed rule.
Instagram has already started to push users towards healthier behavior with a “You’re all caught up” notice when you’ve seen everything in your feed and should stop scrolling.
I expect more apps to attempt to self-police with tools like these rather than leaving themselves at the mercy of iOS’s Screen Time and Android’s Digital Wellbeing features that offer more drastic ways to enforce your own good intentions.
Both let you see overall usage of your phone and stats about individual apps. iOS lets you easily dismiss alerts about hitting your daily limit in an app but delivers a weekly usage report (ironically via notification), while Android will gray out an app’s icon and force you to go to your settings to unlock an app once you exceed your limit.
For Android users especially, Instagram wants to avoid looking like such a time sink that you put one of those hard limits on your use. In that sense, self-policing shows both empathy for its users’ mental health, but is also a self-preservation strategy. With Instagram slated to launch a long-form video hub that could drive even longer session times this week, Usage Insights could be seen as either hypocritical or more necessary than ever.
New time management tools coming to iOS (left) and Android (right). Images via The VergeInstagram is one of the world’s most beloved apps, but also one of the most easily abused. From envy spiraling as you watch the highlights of your friends’ lives to body image issues propelled by its endless legions of models, there are plenty of ways to make yourself feel bad scrolling the Insta feed. And since there’s so little text, no links, and few calls for participation, it’s easy to zombie-browse in the passive way research shows is most dangerous.
We’re in a crisis of attention. Mobile app business models often rely on maximizing our time spent to maximize their ad or in-app purchase revenue. But carrying the bottomless temptation of the Internet in our pockets threatens to leave us distracted, less educated, and depressed. We’ve evolved to crave dopamine hits from blinking lights and novel information, but never had such an endless supply.
There’s value to connecting with friends by watching their days unfold through Instagram and other apps. But tech giants are thankfully starting to be held responsible for helping us balance that with living our own lives.
Instagram Stories, just like Snapchat Stories, are designed to be ephemeral — meaning they are only available for a short period of time, and then they're gone forever. This limitation can obviously be avoided in numerous ways, with taking a screenshot or recording a video being the most obvious. But many users who would think of doing so would likely pause if they thought the person who posted the video would be notified that their story is being screenshotted/recorded. Read more...
Instagram’s shoppable tags are about to pop up in Stories. The company started testing the feature back in 2016 with a limited set of 20 partners. Since then it’s been a hit, expanding broadly to regular brand posts in the feed. Starting today, hitting a little shopping bag sticker in a Story will lead you to more details on the cute and/or dope thing that caught your eye and how to score it.
It’s a simple addition, but given the success of Stories it’s a potent one for brands that drive sales on the platform.
“With 300M using Instagram Stories everyday, people are increasingly finding new products from brands they love,” Instagram said in a press release.
“In a recent survey, Instagrammers said they often watch stories to stay in the-know with brands they’re interested in, get an insider view of products they like, and find out about new products that are relevant to them.”
As a longtime daily Instagram user, I used to be skeptical that people really engaged with brands like this and not just their friends or dogs they know. Now, after seeing my fiancée’s considerable #engagement around makeup brands running wildly popular accounts, Stories and all, I get it. Well, I don’t get it, but I get that some people get it and that the often vast and expertly crafted brand Stories are a logical evolution for a platform trying to get more users buying more stuff in the product categories that call to them.
Well Snap is stepping up. Snapchat will let you retract your risque, embarassing, or incriminating messages thanks to a new feature called Clear Chats that’s rolling out globally over the next few weeks.
Hold down on a text, image, video, memory, sticker, or audio note in a one-on-one or group chat Snapchat message thread and you’ll see a Delete button. Tap it, and Snapchat will try to retract the message, though it admits it won’t always work if the recipient lacks an internet connection or updated version of the app. The recipient will also be notified…something Facebook didn’t do in the case of Zuckerberg’s messages.
The Clear Chats feature could make people more comfortable sending sensitive information over Snapchat. The app already auto-deletes messages after they’re viewed unless a recipient chooses to screenshot or Save them, which their conversation partner can see. This could be especially useful for thwarting cases of revenge porn, where hackers or jilted ex-lovers expose someone’s nude images.
Unfortunately, the Clear Chats option could also be used to send then retract abusive messages, destroying the paper trail. Social media evidence is increasingly being used in divorce and custody battles, which an unsend feature might undermine…especially if Facebook goes through with rolling it out on its platform where messages are normally permanent. But right now, Snapchat’s priority is doing whatever it can to boost usage after hitting its slowest growth rate ever last quarter. If teens feel like Snapchat is a consequence-free place to message, whether or not that’s true, they might favor it over SMS and other social apps.
Until now, you could only buy v2 on Snap’s website. That’s because Snapchat’s eagerness to develop a bevy of sales channels made it very tough to forecast demand for its lackluster v1 Spectacles. They only sold 220,000. That led to hundreds of thousands of pairs gathering dust unsold in warehouses, and Snapchat taking an embarrassing $40 million write-off.
“We had an inventory challenge with v1” Snap’s VP of hardware Mike Randall told me in April. “We don’t think it was a product issue. It was an internal understanding our demand issue vs a planning issue. So we think by having a more simplistic channel strategy with v2 we can more thoughtfully manage demand with v2 vs v1.” Working with Amazon and its robust toolset should help Snap get Spectacles in front of more buyers without obscuring how many it should be manufacturing.
Still, the worst thing about Spectacles is Snapchat. The inability to dump footage directly to your phone’s camera roll, and the incompatibility of its round media format with other social networks means it’s tough to share your Spetacles content anywhere else while making it look good. Snap has experimented with a traditional landscape export format, but that hasn’t rolled out. Spetacles could strongly benefit from Snap partnering with fellow apps or open sourcing to let others show its circular always-full-screen format in all its glory.
Merchants can use the Snap Pixel to measure how their ads lead to sales. The ability to shave down the ecommerce conversion funnel could get advertisers spending more on Snapchat when it could use the dollars. Last quarter it lost $385 million and missed its revenue target by $14 million.
Snapchat is also bringing its augmented reality advertisements to its self-serve ad buying tool. They’re sold on an effective CPM basis for $8 to $20 depending on targeting. Snapchat is also turning its new multiplayer game filters called Snappables into ads.
Overall, it’s good to see Snapchat iterating across its software, hardware, and business units. Plagued by executive departures, fierce competition from Facebook, a rough recent earnings report, and share price troubles, it’s easy to imagine the team getting distracted. The long-term roadmap is fuzzy. With Stories becoming more popular elsewhere, Spectacles sales not being enough to right the ship, and Instagram preparing to launch a long-form video hub that competes with Snapchat Discover, Snap needs to figure out its identity. Perhaps that will hinge on some flashy new feature that captures the imagination of the youth. But otherwise, it must lock in for a long-haul of efficient and methodical improvement. If it’s not growing, the best it can do is hold on to its core audience and squeeze as many dollars out of them as possible without looking desperate.
The U.S. president is seated with his arms crossed, while Merkel, and other world leaders (all standing, BTW) are seen staring down at him. Needless to say, everyone in the photo looks visibly tense. Arms are folded, hands are on the table, and people definitely noticed.