As Instagram tests IGTV ads, it will need to get influencers on board

February 12, 2020

This article originally appeared in Digiday

Two years since first launching IGTV, Instagram now has a plan to let creators monetize their content on it with ads. But influencers are somewhat wary about how this will help them grow their audiences and make money.

Last week Instagram confirmed that it had made an internal prototype of an Instagram Partner Program that would allow creators to make money from ads shown on their IGTV videos. Details about the program are scant, however. A Facebook spokesperson said, “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.”

Monetization “does make me kind of nervous,” said Adam Groffman, a travel-focused publisher and creator whose blog is called Travels of Adam. He recalled Facebook’s infamous pivot to video that led publishers to invest heavily in video, only to find their ad revenues decimated in 2018 after Facebook changed its algorithm. “Being told to pivot to video to make pennies off ads? I’d be reluctant to dive all in. That pivot to video thing was a disaster,” he noted.

Groffman added, “Every advertiser hints that they want video” from influencers and creators “but I feel like” video “is still a bubble and I don’t know that I trust” the platforms to regularly pay creators rates that are worth the effort.

Before it formalizes a plan for monetization of IGTV, Instagram has to convince creators like Groffman to first invest in producing content on IGTV. A general lack of data and insights on IGTV as compared with YouTube’s robust offering is one big reason for Groffman’s reluctance to invest fully in using IGTV. Until he’s convinced, Groffman said he will continue to be platform agnostic in his video approach and will prioritize producing content for his own platforms first.  

The monetization of IGTV for creators won’t necessarily change Doux Fairy’s video strategy or the type of content she produces, but she said it would give her added incentive to “dedicate more time” to video production. The beauty and lifestyle influencer makes original content specifically for IGTV as well as for YouTube; she said hopes IGTV will offer an ad-revenue share model similar to YouTube’s.

Michaela Vais, the creator behind ElaVegan, said she wants IGTV to allow creators to monetize both shorter-form and longer-form videos, and not just ones that are at least three minutes long. While she makes most of her money from ads on ElaVegan.com, she does post sponsored content on Instagram on occasion.

The minimum that Instagram sets for the length of videos that can be monetized will be important as IGTV competes with other short-form video platforms like TikTok for creators’ time and investment. TikTok has not yet been monetized for creators but, like IGTV, it is working toward doing so. If creators can make the same or more money by producing a video only 15 to 20 seconds long and posting it on TikTok, they have less incentive to spend more time making a video of three minutes or longer to share on IGTV.

Many people suspect the IGTV program prototype may be similar to how creators can make money from Facebook Watch. This entails a revenue share from In-Stream Ads that are shown on videos of three minutes or longer, and the ads begin mid-roll.

Instagram also needs to make IGTV more of a must-watch destination for viewers, just as parent company Facebook is trying to do with Facebook Watch. Last month Instagram removed the IGTV icon from its main app interface; a Facebook spokesperson acknowledged that “very few” people were clicking on the IGTV icon that previously appeared on Instagram’s home screen.

“IGTV will have to learn to differentiate themselves from YouTube and TikTok to stand out in the space,” said lifestyle influencer Brooke Miccio. “If they continue with an approach of just serving as a video platform with no real differentiating concept, I think they will get lost in the amount of other applications users have access to.”

Some buyers, however, are hopeful about IGTV’s prospects for helping their clients reach consumers. ForwardPMX’s vp of social and content, Toni Box, said while her clients have paid very little attention to Facebook Watch and although IGTV has struggled “hard to gain traction,” Instagram’s younger audience makes [IGTV] more attractive to advertisers than Facebook Watch.

“IGTV hasn’t had the booming success in the market that other product extensions [from Instagram] have had, but it’s by no means a failed product,” wrote Mike Dossett, RPA Advertising’s digital strategy director. He noted that directing Instagram users to IGTV content from their default feed has grown IGTV audiences.

Buyers and creators also had some suggestions for IGTV about how it could improve the ad experience for specific formats and placements. Miccio wrote she wants to see banner ads and in-video pauses for longer ads (those of about 15 seconds). She added that she likes mid-roll ads because “they keep the audience around.”

PMG’s director of social media, Carly Carson, however, isn’t a fan of mid-roll ads. “We hope they avoid mid-roll ads, as those provide users a subpar experience,” she said.

Box said she wants to see on any ads appearing on IGTV a “seamless in-app purchase experience” that does not diminish the user experience — and perhaps a way for people to skip ads as found on YouTube.

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