UPDATE: June 17, 2021: Instagram has launched ads on Reels worldwide, per a blog post. The ads will be full-screen and vertical, like Stories ads, and will appear between individual Reels. They will loop, can be up to 30 seconds and will be available across the app. Users can comment, like, view, save and share Reels ads.
- Facebook's Instagram expanded the rollout of Reels, a feature that closely resembles TikTok, in several markets around the globe, including the U.S. Instagram Reels lets mobile users create video clips of up to 15 seconds, add music soundtracks and effects and post them to the photo-sharing app, as described in a company blog post.
- Reels videos can be private or public, depending on the account settings of Instagram users. Private Reels are only visible to an Instagram user's followers, and can't be shared with others. Public Reels will appear in Instagram's Explore tab among videos from accounts that people aren't following.
- The Explore tab will highlight trending videos on Instagram, which also will choose videos to showcase with a "featured" label. Instagram will notify people whose videos have been selected as featured in the app, per its blog post.
Instagram's global rollout of an offering that closely resembles TikTok may help boost the app's engagement and give mobile marketers another chance to reach young audiences that strongly favor short-form, often music-centered videos that ByteDance's rival service helped popularize.
While it's not immediately clear what type of advertising Reels will allow, posts from brands appear in the Reels feed wedged in between user-generated content. Companies like Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and HBO and Lionsgate are currently running such posts, according to Mobile Marketer's test of the service. Many Reels posts are also repurposed from TikTok, suggesting the feature will take time to forge a stronger identity separate from the app it is clearly emulating.
There are some qualities differentiating Reels from TikTok at the outset. While TikTok gradually built up a reputation for off-the-cuff, user-generated videos created by its nonprofessional audience, Reels launches with several high-profile celebrities and influencers present on the platform, since switching to Reels doesn't require creating a separate Instagram account. Miley Cyrus, for instance, teased a new single using Reels on Wednesday, according to the New York Post.
If Reels is a success, it could become a powerful revenue driver for Instagram, in the same way that Stories — a disappearing photo and video collage feature cribbed from Snapchat — is now a core part of its business and user experience.
For Facebook, the introduction of Instagram Reels comes as it seeks to fend off a growing rivalry with TikTok, which this year saw record downloads that pushed its global user base past 2 billion worldwide, per an estimate by researcher Sensor Tower. TikTok has sought to boost revenue by expanding its sales and marketing teams, and adding features like a self-serve ad platform called TikTok for Business.
TikTok is especially popular with Gen Z, a key audience for Instagram and one that tends to gravitate toward content creators and influencers over A-list Hollywood celebrities. Facebook last month reportedly began reaching out to top TikTok creators to recruit them to Reels, a move that could also lure brands that sponsor the work of creators.
Instagram's more aggressive moves come as TikTok faces growing threats of being banned in more regions, including the U.S., due to national security concerns. TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, and other countries fear that the Chinese government may be able to exploit the personal data that TikTok collects from users. The Trump administration has been weighing a ban on TikTok, though that threat may be defused as U.S. software giant Microsoft seeks to buy TikTok's operations in several English-speaking countries.
Reels is likely to face competition for users beyond TikTok, given how copying the features of other apps is common among social media companies. For example, Snap seeks to build on TikTok's popularity with the test of a feature to let users create and share music videos. Google's YouTube in June also started testing an app feature that lets mobile users record and share short videos like they do on TikTok.
Facebook, which began testing Reels in Brazil last year before expanding it to countries including France, Germany and India, has had mixed success with starting standalone apps that resemble rivals. The company last month shut down a TikTok clone called Lasso and a Pinterest lookalike called Hobbi, CNBC reported. Facebook has seen greater success by adding new features to its app family that includes its main social network, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, suggesting Reels could have more early traction.
The introduction of Reels comes a week after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced questioning in a congressional antitrust hearing about the company's practice of copying rivals, as Bloomberg News notes. Facebook is among the U.S. technology giants that are being investigated by antitrust authorities to determine whether their business practices harm competitors. It's unclear whether the company will be forced to divest its ownership of Instagram as a result.