Instagram is targeting one of YouTube's weaknesses with plans for long-form video

  • Instagram is talking to social media influencers about creating video series, as well as allowing them to upload longer videos, a person told CNBC.
  • It's been previously reported that Instagram is considering videos up to 60 minutes, as well as a Snapchat Discovery-style hub for original series.
  • By adding longer-form video options, Instagram is making itself even more attractive for social media influencers, which could help Facebook take video ad revenue from Google's YouTube.
Kevin Systrom
Larry Busacca | Getty Images
Kevin Systrom

Instagram is gunning for YouTube with a plan to allow longer-form video, according to the owner of an influencer network whose clients have talked with the Facebook-owned company, as well as numerous media reports.

Allowing long video could help Instagram court social media stars and their millions of fans to use its platform as their primary online home, instead of relying on YouTube, where many have fewer followers. And when the users move, so will the marketers, meaning Facebook stands to gain advertising revenue at Google-owned YouTube's expense.

Digital video advertising is exceptionally lucrative, with revenue projected to reach $19.81 billion by 2020, according to eMarketer. Most platforms, including Facebook, split advertising revenue with popular users and media companies that post videos. And with Instagram popular among younger users — a recent Pew survey showed 71 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds use the service — ad opportunities on and in social media stars' videos could be especially attractive for brands that want to get in front of a demographic that isn't watching TV and commercials.

"When we talk to marketers, Instagram has become their platform of choice," said Mavrck CEO Lyle Stevens. "Over 90 percent of marketers we ask and talk to say Instagram is their most important social network for working with creators. It's a natural evolution for that leadership position to move into that long-form content game."

An influencer management platform, that asked to remain unnamed because the deals were not finalized, told CNBC that Instagram has been meeting with some of its influencers about creating video series for its platform. The videos would be in a vertical format, making them friendly to a mobile-first audience. Instagram also told the influencers it will allow users to upload videos longer than the current 60-second limit. Instagram declined to comment.

The news of the Facebook-owned platform embracing longer videos was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which said Instagram would soon allow users to upload videos up to 60 minutes to their profiles. TechCrunch added on Thursday that Instagram was talking to social media influencers and publishers to create shows for an upcoming section for dedicated-to-video content, similar to Snapchat Discover.

Instagram series could also provide feeder content to help keep the main Facebook site relevant with younger users, raising that platform's ad revenue as well. While Instagram is popular among younger users, Facebook is not: Less than half of Americans aged 12 to 17 today use the platform at least once a month, according to an eMarketer survey.

If Facebook shares the longer Instagram videos on Facebook — which already happens with other Instagram features like profile posts and Instagram Stories — it could become a "feeder" for Facebook's original video initiative, Watch, as Mavrck's Stevens pointed out. Watching videos on Facebook could also increase dwindling engagement rates, Stevens added.

It may not take much convincing to get social media stars to bring their videos to Instagram. YouTube has long been the home for video-based internet celebrities. But some have grown upset with the company because of unannounced changes to YouTube's policy on ad revenue sharing, which they say is affecting how they make their living.

Some influencers already say Instagram is where most of their fans are, said Ben Ricciardi, CEO of brand strategy firm Times10. However, since it doesn't allow videos over 60 seconds, they have to maintain a presence on YouTube and then forward the Instagram followers to that profile.

But if Instagram would let them post longer videos on its platform, they would gladly make it their main hub.

"People that find Instagram as their No. 1 platform, I don't foresee them having to post on YouTube [if Instagram starts allowing long video]," Ricciardi said.