'The product still needs a lot of work': Ad execs say Instagram's IGTV has a lot to do after investigation exposes disturbing videos

  • A Business Insider investigation of Instagram’s IGTV showed how rampant brand safety issues remain in digital video.
  • Media execs say that IGTV isn’t as sophisticated as YouTube or Facebook when it comes to surfacing content — but are still bullish on the platform for reaching a lucrative audience.
  • IGTV doesn’t have ads yet but brands’ channels can still appear next to questionable content.

With Instagram’s IGTV becoming the latest social media platform in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, the question of whether these platforms can keep advertisers away from dicey content continues.

Experts aren’t sure that it will ever go away.

An investigation by Business Insider found that IGTV has been recommending graphic and inappropriate videos, like sexually suggestive footage of young girls and clips of genitals, to users. After the videos were reported to Instagram, some stayed on the app for five days.

That slow response might seem shocking in light of all the bad headlines surrounding brand safety problems. How could Instagram not see this coming given what’s been happening? But ad industry experts aren’t that surprised, and aren’t that confident that Instagram, or digital platforms as a whole, are close to fixing the problem.

IGTV surfaces videos found popular among its users IGTV

Instagram screwed up. Just like Facebook and YouTube

Brand safety has been a massive headache for the advertising industry for several years and Instagram is far from the only platform to deal with issues.

Hundreds of marketers have pulled or paused campaigns because of ongoing issues on YouTube, while Facebook has hired thousands of employees to specifically monitor content.

Facebook also recently rolled out some new tools for advertisers to limit where their ads show up within videos and Snap also has whitelisting tools that allow advertisers to limit where their ads appear.

If these giant platforms are just fixing their problems, IGTV seems to be playing catchup.

“Candidly, I think that the product still needs a lot of work,” said one media executive speaking on background. “It’s new and it’s not as mature of a platform as YouTube or even Facebook — but what’s weird to me is that there really isn’t a product experience around curation.”

Two media sources said that IGTV’s product is not as fully developed as competitors when it comes to recommending content or racking up huge audiences. And as Business Insider’s investigation found, there’s a wide mix of content that is uploaded from user-generated clips to polished series from media companies and content creators.

Overall, media execs and advertisers are bullish on Instagram’s massive audience of engaged 500 million daily users. IGTV remains a work in progress.

“The biggest challenge with IGTV is that they haven’t fully figured out what they want from that platform yet and how that product is going to evolve — if people first see the crummy stuff they’re not going to have a lot of faith in the app but if they can [surface] good stuff then I think IGTV is going to explode,” the media source said.

Publishers aren’t seeing huge audiences from IGTV — yet

IGTV also hasn’t proved to have a huge audience for content creators yet. Kevin Hart, for example, was one of a handful of high-profile users that began creating videos for IGTV. He has 62.5 million Instagram followers and has posted a handful of IGTV clips that have ranged from getting close to a million views to 350,000 views.

“It’s a smaller but more engaged audience,” said the media exec. “You certainly don’t go viral on IGTV the way that you can go viral on Facebook or Twitter.”

As of now, publishers aren’t as worried about brand safety as marketers that run ads alongside content, but execs said that IGTV’s format of sandwiching their content adjacent to users’ content opens up potential brand safety risks that they’d like to see cleaned up.

Advertisers are cracking down on brand safety, and also seem resigned to problems.

While many advertisers’ initial reactions to brand safety mishaps was to pause spending or slam the various platforms publicly, many have since come to understand that the issue is far more complex and nuanced than they had initially realized.

“100% brand safety is impossible … we will only get to 99.99% given the open and real-time nature of the internet,” said Joshua Lowcock, global brand safety officer at UM.

Brands have also realized that having a zero tolerance policy means that they have to sacrifice on the lucrative reach, audience, and inventory prices that these platforms offer them, according to John Montgomery, GroupM’s head of brand safety.

“The safer you are the more difficult, arduous and expensive it becomes to advertise on social platforms,” he said. “Brands are realizing that there is a trade-off with the massive reach and access to consumers in the case of platforms.”

Still, it’s certainly not a good look for Facebook. IGTV has not yet been monetized, which means that brands aren’t paying to run ads on the platform. But it still can end up being a bad look if say, Coca-Cola’s channel or a L’Oreal sponsored post on an influencer channel ends up adjacent to a child exploitation video.

“The fact that IGTV is not monetized is something that will give brands a course for relief,” said Montgomery. “But it is absolutely still a concern that the algorithm is surfacing such content, because this is yet another piece of bad news about Facebook giving clients a chance to pause and reflect.”

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