Facebook’s Instagram is officially launching its answer to the hit short video app, TikTok – Instagram Reels.
The new Instagram feature – which aims squarely at TikTok’s market – will let users record and edit 15-second videos with audio, and will let users add visual effects. Users will be able to share Reels with followers in Instagram in a dedicated section called Reels in Explore, or in the Story feature where posts disappear after 24 hours.
The Reels option will be available in the Instagram app. The company has been testing the new product in Brazil since November and in France, Germany and India since earlier this summer.
The debut arrived at a fraught moment for TikTok, which has come under threat of a ban by the White House, prompting China’s ByteDance to weigh a sale of the app’s United States operations to Microsoft.
Facebook has a long tradition of cloning competitive services. The Instagram “Story” feature, which lets people share photos and videos that expire in 24 hours, is similar to Snapchat.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced tough questioning about the company’s habit of copying rivals before a congressional hearing on July 29.
Facebook earlier launched a TikTok knockoff called Lasso in 2018, but closed that down in July. It also tried services similar to Snapchat called Slingshot and Poke before Instagram Stories caught on.
Copying Snapchat’s features was successful for Instagram in part because Snapchat was difficult to figure out for new users. They were already comfortable with Instagram. But TikTok is very easy to use and part of its appeal is that users are able to sit back and scroll endlessly with just swipes, without the need to follow anyone or post anything.
For Reels to succeed, Facebook will have to lure video creators away from TikTok. This might be easier to do with Reels since many creators are already on Instagram. In response to published reports that Instagram is paying TikTok influencers to join Reels, Instagram said in a statement that the company “have a long history of reaching out to emerging creators and working to break new stars on Instagram”.
“As with previous products, we remain committed to investing in both our creators and their overall experience, and in certain cases, we may help cover production costs for their creative ideas,” the company said.
TikTok, in turn, launched a $200m “creator fund” in July that it says will increase to more than $1bn in the US in the next three years and more than double that globally, to pay video creators for their material.
TikTok, however, is under fire, possibly opening an opportunity for Facebook.
Microsoft is in talks to buy part of TikTok in what would essentially be a forced sale, following threats from President Donald Trump to ban the Chinese-owned video app.
Since early July, TikTok users have been posting videos urging viewers to follow them to other platforms like Instagram, reflecting the threat of a TikTok ban.
Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO at influencer marketing agency Takumi, said the influencers she works with have been sad, angry and upset about the threat of a ban. Still, they’re “pragmatic,” she said, and the smart ones were already active on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
Reels is debuting in more than 50 countries, including the US, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and others, as well as officially launching in the test countries – Brazil, France, Germany and India.
Instagram has more than a billion users worldwide. TikTok says it has 100 million users in the US and hundreds of millions globally.