Instagram TV has a chance to change the Movie Industry

Instagram just launched a new feature (which could also be considered its own platform) named “IGTV” or “Instagram TV”. It’s their take on long-form content. Initially, it appears content is tailored for vertical video, but it is possible to watch in a standard landscape orientation — albeit with some tweaks required from the content creator (more on that later).

It’s no secret that I have been harsh on Instagram over the years. I bawked and bawked about being limited to square videos in regular posts (vs. the relatively recent addition of Stories). I whined and whined about Stories cropping landscape videos/photos uploaded from the camera roll, and their ephemerial nature. Both gripes have since been solved. Hooray! I suspect IGTV will inevitably allow the upload of landscape videos without cropping them to a portrait orientation.

Yes, sometimes I enjoy watching Instagram Stories in a vertical orientation. Usually when I’m quickly skimming through a handful of stories while waiting for a video to export or a bus to arrive. That said, unless I’m watching a show about ladders or giraffes, I’m not going to spend 20-40 minutes watching a vertical video. The first channel I saw on IGTV was natgeo. They have a show called “One Strange Rock: Home“. The first 3 minutes were compelling enough for me to want to watch more, but I’m frustrated by it not being in landscape. One Strange Rock. Rocks. Land. Landscape.

Thankfully, some creators I highly respect have placed snarky responses to IGTV’s vertical video limitations. First, I saw that Philip Bloom uploaded a video (https://instagram.com/tv/BkTKKUJnCkI) to IGTV in landscape orientation. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Then I realised he had edited the video to be rotated 90º and exported it in a 9:16 orientation. I do not appreciate the extra work these platforms make content creators do (i.e., pan and scan*) just to get our content to be displayed as it was recorded. It would take less than a week of development for the Instagram team to add a feature that allows videos to be rotated 90º/-90º. But, why bother when they could just display videos in the orientation they’re uploaded? Kraig Adams uploaded an iPhone screen recording of his YouTube channel and titled it “How to not use IGTV“. Hilarious! He did mention in the caption that he is excited to start making native content for IGTV though. Justine posted a tweet that simply reads “Vertical video 🤦🏼‍♀️” and has a vertical version of one of her recent YouTube videos. The replies to her were mostly against the idea of vertical video. These are her fans, but they also appear to be creators who know what they’re talking about.

While the public doesn’t yet know what the monetisation options will be for IGTV, I think this will be a great opportunity for Instagram to encourage other platforms to set standardised practices for international content distribution. In other words, being hindered from watching Australian content (usually the limitations are only on mainstream content — not YouTubers) within the United States’ geopolitical borders — and vice versa — is frustrating and outdated. If Instagram can lead others to distribute their content globally, then I think this will be a huge benefit for customers and the creators. Everyone is well aware of the lack of borders on the internet. Seeing “This content is not available in your country” is jarring. It leads people to go and steal the content through nefarious methods. Even with that awareness, production and distribution companies aren’t always able to agree on pricing to have content delivered globally. IGTV can and should pave a way forward for standardised pricing. Here’s are two examples of how that could work:

Chris Lilley (Australian director/producer) creates a new TV series.

      • The production company partners with an Australian distribution channel to get it on TV and online streaming channels.
      • Depending on global partnerships, the Australian distribution channel could charge 12% for every partner that wants to license the show in their country.
      • If their partner in that country doesn’t want the show, then it goes to an open market — not to the highest bidder. In theory, every channel/service in that country could distribute the show, but that would hinder competition between them.

Ricky Gervais (British director/producer) creates a new TV series.

        • The production company launches it on their YouTube, IGTV, Netflix, and Facebook channels with no global restrictions. (At minimum, they should have closed captions for countries which don’t have the native language of the show.)
        • The show (or movie) is ~$10 to watch the entire season, or included with the platform’s subscription membership (typically less than $10/mo).
        • To market the show (something the distribution channel usually does), they can target specific audiences on Google AdWords and Facebook Ads. This will likely gain them a larger (trackable) audience than traditional platforms like television.
    •  

Lastly, while most content is viewed on mobile phones and tablets, many people still enjoy longform (movies, TV shows, etc.) content on a larger screen. Personally, I prefer watching anything on YouTube on my laptop; if I see something interesting on my phone, I’ll move over to my laptop to view it. IGTV being limited to phones (Instagram still doesn’t have a good tablet experience) will hinder most of what I’ve described here. It won’t be able to compete with Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube Red if it’s not available on all platforms.

Further reading

The Solution to Vertical Video

The introduction of video on the iPhone 3GS introduced an issue into society: vertical video. If you’re reading this online, then you’ve likely seen a vertical video. The iPhone 3GS only recorded SD (640×480) video. Now, iPhones record HD (1080p). Thus, people are sharing around huge vertical videos via social media, SMS, etc. If you’re unfamiliar with this, then watch the following video.

https://youtu.be/Bt9zSfinwFA

This has been prevalent since 2009, but has increased exponentially in the past 3-4 years. It seems educating people on the matter is a lost cause; (non-technical) people are complacent. (Snapchat also isn’t helping the situation.)

I have a solution which doesn’t require people to learn anything new. (Plus, it will make Instagram users squeal.) Device manufacturers just need to place a square imaging sensor inside phones, tablets, and any devices which people tend to primarily hold in a vertical orientation. Most imaging sensors in cameras (DSLRs, camcorders, REDs, etc.) are in a 4:3 or 16:9 (wider than they are tall) aspect ratio. Cameras were built to be held in a certain way. Phones were also built to be handled in a certain way. If manufacturers just place a square sensor in devices held in a portrait fashion, then the software can determine whether to record with a widescreen crop on the sensor, or not. Vine and Instagram have exploded the square (1:1) content market. I don’t like the limitation of a square (especially in video), but it’s far better than vertical videos.

iPhone 5 iOS 8 UI - Video Camera modeWith a square sensor, you would load the built-in camera app and it would function the same way it does now. However, when you switch to video mode and hold the device vertically, it will display a dark, translucent overlay on the live view from the sensor. That overlay will appear on more of the screen than the clear portion representing the content which will be captured (see image left). This may entice people to rotate the device horizontally — so they can see a larger image of what is being recorded. Even if they continue to hold it vertically, the video recorded will be horizontal. Huzzah!

So, Apple, Google, Motorola, LG, and all you folks. Get Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and all those image sensor manufacturers to make you square sensors. Then spend a day tweaking the software to support it. Then give yourselves a big hug as you witness vertical videos being less and less viewed online.

From an art perspective, I have no issue with vertical video. I haven’t not seen it used in a creative, artistic way though. Enlighten me, if you have.

Oh, and Instagram users. You’ll be sharing photos created by capturing light to every single pixel on that sensor. Congratulations.

Graphic created by me using iOS 8 Illustrator Vector UI Kit, screenshots from my phone, and a frame from a vertical video Kali sent me.