Within ten days of TikTok’s ban in India, Facebook on Wednesday announced that it will start testing Instagram’s short video service, Reels, in the country. The company was already testing the service in Brazil, Germany and France. Reels’ is similar to TikTok, and will be integrated within the Instagram app. “People can record and edit 15-second multi-clip videos with audio, effects and new creative tools”, just that users will have different ways to share their creations: “With their followers on Feed; and, if they have a public account, make their reels available to the wider Instagram community through a new space in Explore”. Facebook shut down another of its supposed TikTok competitor, Lasso, earlier this month, presumably to focus on Instagram Reels.
Reels can either be accessed on Instagram’s “Explore” page — which is where the most viral posts on the platform appear, or on a user’s timeline. Instagram said that “sharing to Reels in Explore gives people the opportunity to access a larger audience, especially since more than 50% of accounts on Instagram globally visit Explore every month”. Videos also make up for over a third of posts on the platform, according to Ajit Mohan, Facebook India’s vice president and managing director. The feature will start rolling out to users in India from 7:30pm IST on July 8.
Similarities to TikTok: The tools available to creators are also largely in line with what TikTok offered, starting from major options such as allowing creators to use pre-existing songs to record Reels, or use a sound not already present on the platform, down to smaller options such as having a countdown timer to shoot videos hands-free.
Who will fill the TikTok void?
TikTok had around 200 million users in India, and the aftermath of its ban here has seen a number of Indian companies either renew their focus, or launch new products altogether to cater to the short video market. OTT platform Zee5 will launch a TikTok alternative called HiPi by September, and Times Internet-backed Gaana also launched a similar service called HotShots. Another app called Chingari has claimed that it has seen massive growth in user base since TikTok’s ban, while another similar app called Mitron TV — which is reportedly a rebranded version of a Pakistani app — has also raised funding worth Rs 2 crore.
However, unlike the several of homegrown apps that have claimed a surge in growth since TikTok’s ban, Instagram is joining the battle with content specific to Reels from a diverse set of public figures and creators. These include creators such as Ammy Virk, Gippy Grewal, Komal Pandey, Arjun Kanungo, Kusha Kapila, Radhika Bangia, RJ Abhinav, and Ankush Bhaguna. The latter three were also very popular creators on TikTok. Instagram’s pre-existing partnership with music labels will also allow it to have a wide array of songs on Reels. Not to forget, Instagram won’t be short on resources to take on TikTok-esque apps.
On the night of June 29, when TikTok along with 58 other Chinese apps was banned in India over alleged national security and privacy concerns, we saw several TikTok creators making videos directing their viewers to connect with them on their Instagram handle. Reels also has a good chance of succeeding because most popular TikTok creators already have a sizeable audience on Instagram, and won’t have the need to migrate to another short video platform.
However, apart from having several popular creators on the platform, a big reason behind TikTok’s success was its recommendation page (which the company chalked out last month), called ‘For You’, where users could see the most viral videos on the platform one after the other. In contrast, Instagram’s Explore feed, where most users will end up watching Reels, is already cluttered, with images and other types of videos.
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