Meta doubling-down on the attention deficit economy

At a recent Creators’ Event in NY, Instagram gaffer Adam Mosseri was heard to say “Reels that are longer than 90 seconds can hurt distribution”. This is a strong a hint as you’ll hear … keep it short matey or we’ll punish you!

This is interesting given both IG and TikTok keep increasing the maximum length of videos and encouraging longer content from users. It was widely presumed this move to longer form is to address the domination by video giant, Youtube, of the “serious”content marketplace.

Short content, whilst arguably no less valuable to marketers, often falls into the light-entertainment category; the “man hit in groin by football” of mid-90s Simpson fame.

But, users are not creators. Users are the bread and butter that feeds the Ad machine. Creators provide the dopamine hit and why the users are there in the first place. No hit, no audience.

In this unsettling analogy, the creators are the drug- dealers and users are the junkies.

IG is therefore driving professional high-volume creators – those that are looking the game and monetise the system – to sub-90 clips. That’s little more than an advert break in the UK and distinctly different from what it is saying to the users of the platform.

Ultimately Iinsta is using shorter (punchier?) creator content to push advertising to, and extract data from, users who are encouraged to post longer content.

One would assume that keeping pro content short makes it easier to pass off as authentic and, as we all now know from TikTok, authenticity sells – even the ersatz version we’re endlessly fed.

The dopamine high is higher but now much shorter, urging increasingly feverish users onto the next big hit. Which is neither big nor even a real thing anymore such is the distorted worldview that our attention-deficit junkies live in.

Some even think they consume factual content the same way. A kinda mixtape of news smashed together with unfounded opinions and promoted as “shocking insight that makes you special”.

I dislike ATL advertising – tbh I barely tolerate BTL – but at least when you see it on ITVX you know it’s regulated and capped at 15% of programme length. With the video platforms it feels like you’re standing naked in a car wash, not knowing which programme has been selected, no idea what’s next, praying for the experience to be over – but not wanting to leave. Not really.

At least TikTok, the driver of this “short-hit, go again” entertainment, is honest enough to be true to itself and its junkies. TikTok don’t pretend to be anything else than the home of (funny) crap. They are the fixed-betting odds terminal of the social media world, preying on the susceptible and less-informed.

Maybe that’s a bit harsh on their users, but TikTok revels in the amateur nature of the content … can’t afford a proper camera/lighting setup? Can’t spell “post-production”? In a rush? Come on in, TikTok is waiting for you. And I suppose it does work.

TikTok recommend 20-30 secs clips and is ideal for lower-budgets and skill sets as the post production is far simpler, often zero. Single shot, simple-filter, iPhone selfie-camera based TikToks exhibit a level of guerrilla-authenticity that the far more polished output on YouTube cannot hope to match.

It seems that Meta wants in on both games (remember when Instagram was a photo-sharing app and the darling of serious photogs?). They could end up being squeezed from both ends, but their traditional domination of the younger demographics is absolutely over.

Today in 2024, TikTok’s core is 13-24 year olds, discrete and complimentary vs Youtube whose key audience is 24 to 44. The same can be said for the “peak times”. TikTok is midweek 6-10am and 7-11pm, YouTube is weekend afternoons and Friday after work..

Instagram is stuck, somewhat awkwardly straddling both groups at 18 to 34 years old with the key times being midweek extended lunch (11-14:00). It crosses so many lines that arguably makes it stronger, but its also vulnerable to attack.

TikTok has 23 million users from a standing start in 2018, Instagram is almost a decade older and on 29m. YouTube is the OG at two decades old and as the second most visited site in the world it has 42m regular users (all UK numbers).

As audiences matures, TikTok will likely start eating Instas lunch at the same time as its older viewers move onto more considered video content from Youtube or traditional (Ed: really?) streaming services.

Maybe it’s time for Meta to pivot Instagram again. Now, where did I put my Metaverse login… fade to black with outro music (Youtube), Awkward close up of dental brace and fumbling for the stop button (TikTok). How should Instagrammers close out their video shorts?