Instagram Adds Video, Plays Coy On Ads

To outdo Twitter's Vine, Facebook's Instagram offers 15-second recordings.
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Instagram, the hugely popular photo sharing app, on Thursday added video to its media arsenal.

At a press event in Menlo Park, Calif., company co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom announced Instagram's ability to make video recordings, following an introduction from Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, which bought Systrom's company for about $1 billion last year.

Video on Instagram follows the January debut of Vine, an app that Twitter acquired last year hoping it would become the Instagram of video. Facebook made it clear at the time that it wasn't interested in helping Vine achieve that dream when it blocked Vine from using its "find people" function to find friends with Facebook accounts.

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What's the difference between Vine videos and Instagram videos? A mere nine seconds, give or take a few frames: Vine limits videos to six seconds while Instagram restricts them to 15 seconds. Neither length quite qualifies as epic, but 15 seconds is a far more familiar length, one often used for television commercials.

Given Facebook's strong advertising ecosystem, it's not hard to imagine that marketers will be able to do more with Instagram than with Vine. Although little was said about the promotional potential of Instagram videos, fashion brand Burberry is already exploring the possibilities.

In a recent phone interview, Krishna Subramanian, CMO of mobile marketing service Velti, observed, "Advertising is trying to become content." Facebook has been helping advertising make that journey through its branding of online posts as "stories," a term that takes the modifier "sponsored" at times but denies the traditional distinction between editorial and advertising.

Instagram video is a medium that might make that happen, provided 15 seconds of video isn't so much that it hinders the user experience with long network transfer times or burdens Facebook's data centers unnecessarily. When Vine launched, Twitter insisted that six seconds represented the optimal balance between expressiveness and technological limitations.

As it does with images, Instagram filters videos to make ill-lit reality more aesthetically pleasing. There are 13 of these filters, Systrom explains in a blog post, adding that users can select a favorite video scene as a cover image.

There's also a video stabilization feature called Cinema, which is presently available for iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. Instagram video recording is available on iPhones running iOS 5+, as well as mobile devices running Android 4.1+.

Instagram claims to have 130 million active monthly users.