Instagram’s answer to Snapchat’s Live Stories isn’t just for holidays and big events any more. Internally, they’re known as Spotlight Compilations — vertical slideshows of the best videos related to a theme, like “Dynamic Duos – Odd Couple Animal Videos” or “Ramped Up – Rad Skateboarding Videos.” They appear in the Spotlight section atop the Explore tab which launched in June.
Until now, Instagram only made Spotlight Compilations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, and New Year’s. It also had plans for curating collections around big music festivals and news events.
But Spotlight Compilations were so popular that starting this week, Instagram’s community team began spontaneously coming up with themes. They comb through the top relevant clips, and show them off in its “immersive video player” each day so there’s always at least one to watch.
The strategy behind Spotlight Compilations goes beyond just keeping people engaged and coming back to Instagram. Gabe Madway, Instagram’s communications manager, tells me Spotlight is “where you go to discover things you don’t follow but might end up following. Things you never expected to see.”
That’s critical for an app in danger of going stale after a half decade of sunsets and food porn. It’s easy to get complacent with following your friends and a few accounts matching your interests. That’s why Instagram has released new standalone app tools for making fresh content types like Boomerang GIFs, Layout collages, and Hyperlapse timelapses. And that’s why Spotlight Compilations heavily promote the creators behind the videos.
“Every piece of content there has attribution” says Madway. “That is something we hope will spread the word about the talented people who use the platform.”
It’s one thing that drastically differentiates Spotlight Compilations from Snapchat’s Live Stories, which don’t let you see who made the clips it compiles. The lack of ways to discover people to follow on Snapchat has spawned whole apps like Slinger, where you can permanently show off saved Snapchat Stories and other vertical videos, plus browse leaderboards of the best creators.
Instagram knows keeping the stars of its app happy means they’ll continue posting there and their fans will keep visiting. Plus, Spotlight gives users something to aspire to as they record.
Video was slow to take off on Instagram. It still feels a bit bolted on since so many people scroll their feed while in public with their phones muted. It’s not worth it to find some place private or put headphones in to catch the sound from the occasional video.
Yet since the Spotlight Compilations are video only, they establish a more long-session video experience worth turning up the volume for. Naturally, this curated, filtered channel creates a big opportunity to slide in sponsored content ads. But Madway says putting ads on the Explore tab has “not been on the table.”
Instead, Spotlight Compilations could teach users to watch videos. That’s important for Instagram’s bottom line because video ads command high prices since they’re much more impactful than photos.
Meanwhile, Instagram is encroaching on Twitter’s turf by making a newsy yet inviting consumption mechanism like Moments. “We might do a compilation around an event like Coachella, or a collection of amazing portrait artists or architects…action sports, NBA players…We try to be topical…to make them jive with what’s happening.” You don’t even need to know who to follow.
Much like its parent company Facebook with its non-stop suggested video reels, Instagram wants to develop a lean-back watching experience. Apparently we’re too lazy to even scroll any more. Just let your eyes glaze over, and Spotlight will auto-advance you through the pretty moving pictures.