Facebook Launches TikTok Rival ‘Instagram Reels’

While TikTok’s future is in jeopardy, Instagram Reels is positioned for success.

Last week, Facebook-owned Instagram announced the launch of Instagram Reels, a short form video platform, in more than 50 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and Australia. Facebook started testing Instagram Reels in Brazil last November, and has since rolled out the platform in France, Germany and India, reports Business Insider. Reels is available through Instagram on both iOS and Android.

Similar to rival TikTok, Instagram users can record and edit 15-second videos, complete with music or audio, special effects, and creative tools. The key difference between Instagram Reels and TikTok appears to be video length. Where Instagram Reels is restricted to 15 seconds, TikTok allows videos up to 60 seconds. Another possible difference may be in how platforms have licensed music from the original creators.

“Reels gives people new ways to express themselves, discover more of what they love on Instagram, and help anyone with the ambition of becoming a creator take center stage,” Instagram said in the August 5 announcement.

Creating Instagram Reels

According to Instagram, creating Instagram Reels is easy, and they provide step-by-step instructions in their announcement.

  1. Creators find a song from the Instagram music library, or they can use their own original audio.
  2. Users choose from the effects in Instagram’s effect gallery which includes effects from Instagram and from other creators.
  3. Instagram Reels includes a timer and countdown feature so creators can record their videos hands-free.
  4. Creators can speed up or slow down part of the video or audio, and they can record a series of clips, one at a time or all at once.
  5. Once a video is ready to share, the creator moves it to the share screen where they can save a draft, change the cover photo, add a caption and hashtags, and tag their followers.
With TikTok's future uncertain, Facebook-owned Instagram rolls out Instagram Reels in more than 50 countries, including the U.S.
With TikTok’s uncertain future, Facebook-owned Instagram rolls out Instagram Reels in more than 50 countries, including the U.S.

Sharing and discovering Instagram Reels

Users with public accounts can share their Instagram Reels in a dedicated space in Explore which shares their videos with followers. Users with private accounts have restrictions on how their videos are shared, based on their Instagram privacy settings. Reels also appear on the creator’s profile page. If a user creates a Reel that is part of their story, it will disappear after 24 hours, like other Instagram stories do. In Explore, Instagram will showcase trending Reels, and some will be identified as Featured. When a creator’s Reel is featured, Instagram will notify them.

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Why now?

The timing of the launch of Instagram Reels is not a coincidence. Instagram has reportedly been working on Reels for a while, but with TikTok in hot water with the U.S. government, this was the ideal time to launch Instagram Reels. As we reported last week, President Donald Trump asked Microsoft to make a deal to acquire TikTok by September 15, due to security concerns. Last Thursday, the president signed an executive order to ban TikTok if a deal is not reached. If Microsoft acquires TikTok, it would purchase the portion of the ByteDance-owned company’s operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information – potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage,” reads an excerpt of the order.

Is Instagram Reels a duplicate of TikTok? Instagram says, “no.” In an interview with The Verge, Robby Stein, product director for Instagram, said that their product will not be identical to TikTok’s.

“We’re going big with entertainment and [making Explore] the permanent place for you to go lean back, relax, and be inspired every day,” Stein told The Verge. “It’s our hope that with this format we have a new chapter of entertainment on Instagram.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Twitter has also held acquisition talks with TikTok.

User statistics

According to a May blog post by HootSuite, TikTok is the sixth largest social network with 800 million active users, including 100 million users in the U.S. It is preceded by WhatsApp Messenger, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Instagram. All but WeChat are owned by Facebook. As of May, TikTok was the #1 downloaded app of the year. Last year, TikTok had an estimated 738 million downloads.

Last fall, HootSuite said that Instagram has 1 billion users with 500 million using Instagram Stories every day. In 2020, Instagram is estimated to reach 112.5 million users in the U.S. alone, a 5.4% increase. [Editor’s note: different sources quote different statistics for each of the platforms.]

Insider Take

With so many U.S. users, Instagram Reels is likely to attract a large audience and quickly, particularly since the fate of TikTok is unknown. We don’t expect TikTok to lose users though. It is popular worldwide, and even though it is banned in India and may soon be banned in the U.S., the social media platform is not likely to go away.

Short form video fans will likely watch videos on both platforms as long as they are able to do so. One key distinction will be where the creators land. Some may choose to share their videos on both platforms, where some may choose to be exclusive – similar to streaming services. Exclusive content attracts unique audiences. With TikTok’s recent launch of a creator fund, it is hoping to incentivize its most popular creators to be loyal.

What we find the most interesting about this launch is what will happen if Microsoft does, in fact, strike a deal with TikTok. Microsoft does not have expertise in social media platforms, though it has the resources to hire – perhaps even poach – experts who can maximize TikTok’s usage while eliminating security concerns. We want to see how Microsoft and Facebook/Instagram will compete with each other. We hope the competition will bring out the best in both platforms. It seems there are plenty of users to share.