In growing battle with TikTok, Facebook to test ‘Facebook Reels’ in the U.S.

Reels are coming to Facebook in the U.S. The company this morning announced it will begin testing a new feature, Facebook Reels, which will give Facebook users the ability to create and share short-form video content directly within the News Feed or within Facebook Groups. The addition is an expansion of tests launched earlier this year in India, Mexico and Canada, which had focused on bringing short-form videos to Facebook users, including by sharing existing Instagram Reels to Facebook, as had been reported.

In addition, Facebook today says it will also test a new feature that will give Instagram creators in the U.S. the option to have their Instagram Reels shown as recommended content on Facebook. If the creators opt in, their videos will appear in the “Reels” section in users’ News Feed, alongside other Reels created on Facebook.

There will be many places where users can create Reels from Facebook, as the new feature launches.

Initially, you’ll be able to tap a “Create” button from the Reels’ section that appears as you scroll the News Feed, while you’re watching Reels, or by tapping on “Reels” at the top of your News Feed. From here, users will gain access to a standard set of creation tools, including those for video capture, music selection, camera roll import, timed text, and more — much like you would have access to on Instagram.

For audio, you can either choose a song from Facebook’s music library, record your own original audio, or even use someone else’s audio, if their Reels are set to “public.” There are also a variety of effects and editing tools to choose from, including a timer for recording Reels hands-free, tools to speed up or slow down a part of the video or your original audio, and a number of augmented reality effects created either by Facebook or third-party developers.

Facebook told us that, for the time being, “most” of Instagram Reels’ features will also be available on Facebook Reels. But other features — like Remix (its take on TikTok’s side-by-side videos called Duets) — will be added over time as the test scales to more people. The user interface for Reels may also evolve over time to look somewhat different from Reels on Instagram, depending on user feedback.

After a Reel has been created, you can choose who to share it with — such as “Friends,” a specific audience like “Friends except…”, or the general public. The latter is the default setting.

The feature will be made available within Facebook Groups, where Reels can be created then shared with members of the community who have similar interests.

Users can also choose to tap into “My Reels,” to view past creations. And you can browse Reels created by others in the News Feed, and in select Groups and Pages — where you can like, comment or share them, just as you could with any other type of post. Reels will now be surfaced in Search results, too, Facebook told us.

Like much of what appears on Facebook, Reels will be recommended to users based on what people are interested in, what they engage with, and what’s broadly popular. This will apply to both the shared Instagram Reels and the Facebook Reels.

Image Credits: Facebook (Reels in Groups)

The company explained the decision to replicate the Reels product inside Facebook is a result of consumers’ growing interest in video, and particularly short-form video. Today, video accounts for almost half of all time spent on Facebook, in fact. On Facebook’s latest earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg remarked that Reels was “already the largest contributor to engagement growth on Instagram,” given the popularity of short-form video.

“We’re very focused on making it easy for anyone to create video, and then for those videos to be viewed across all of our different services, starting with Facebook and Instagram first,” he had told investors.

But Facebook also understands that people have different communities and audiences on Instagram and Facebook, so simply offering a cross-posting option may not have sufficed.

However, for existing Reels creators who do want to tap into Facebook’s large audience, a new option will allow them to opt-in to have their Reels shared to Facebook. This could be useful for those producing more general-interest Reels content.

These shared Reels will display the creator’s Instagram username, as well, which could help them to build a following. Creators’ Reels can also be remixed, with the creator’s permission, and their original audio can be re-used in other people’s Reels — again, much like on TikTok.

This feature will also be first introduced as a “test,” Facebook said.

While Instagram is already beginning to monetize Reels through ads, Facebook told us that Reels on Facebook don’t currently include ads. But: “we plan to roll out ads in the future,” a Facebook spokesperson added.

Image Credits: Facebook (sharing Instagram Reels to Facebook opt-in flow)

 

Reels, which is Facebook’s answer to the growing threat of TikTok, first launched to global audiences a year ago. This launch alone was not enough to win Instagram the top spot as the world’s most downloaded mobile app. In 2020, that win went to TikTok, after years where Facebook-owned apps dominated the top charts. And TikTok today continues to sit at the top of App Store charts in terms of both app installs and consumer spending, according to multiple third-party reports. 

For Facebook, TikTok represents an existential threat to its business. If users’ time and attention are being spent elsewhere, Facebook’s advertisers could then follow, impacting Facebook’s bottom line. So instead of competing with TikTok in just one app, Facebook is now using two. And it’s leveraging its apps’ interoperability to ensure the best content can easily flow to both places.

The company is also directly investing in the creator community in hopes of tipping the scales back in its direction.

In July, the company announced a plan to invest over $1 billion in creators across both Facebook and Instagram through 2022. This fund will reward more than just Reels’ creators, to be clear, as it will also pay out bonuses for videos with in-stream ads enabled or for enabling IGTV ads, among other things. It will also bonus top creators who have invited fans to send them tips in the form of a virtual currency, “stars.” But Instagram Reels, and now Facebook Reels, will be looped into that initiative.

Today, Facebook said it will announce additional bonus programs and seed funding in the months ahead that will pay out bonuses for Reels on Facebook. These will be funded from that $1 billion commitment. The company declined to share details on this front, but this news alone indicates Facebook Reels is far more than just “a test” in Facebook’s eyes.

The new Facebook Reels features will begin to roll out starting today, Aug. 19, in the U.S. It will first be available to a “small percentage” of U.S. users on iOS and Android.

The feature will continue to operate in India, Mexico and Canada, as well.

#apps, #canada, #computing, #facebook, #facebook-stories, #india, #instagram, #instagram-reels, #like-button, #mexico, #news-feed, #reels, #social, #social-media, #social-software, #software, #tiktok, #united-states, #video-hosting

Reddit is quietly rolling out a TikTok-like video feed button on iOS

From Instagram’s Reels to Snapchat’s Spotlight, most social media platforms are looking toward the TikTok boom for inspiration. Now, even Reddit, a discussion-based forum, is making short-form video more pronounced on its iOS app.

According to Reddit, most iOS users should have a button on their app directly to the right of the search bar — when tapped, it will show a stream of videos in a TikTok-like configuration. When presented with a video, (which shows the poster who uploaded it and the subreddit it’s from), users can upvote or downvote, comment, gift an award, or share it. Like TikTok, users can swipe up to see another video, feeding content from subreddits the user is subscribed to, as well as related ones. For instance, if you’re subscribed to r/printmaking, you might see content from r/pottery or r/bookbinding.

The user interface of the videos isn’t new — Reddit has been experimenting with this format over the last year. But before, this manner of watching Reddit videos was only accessible by tapping on a video while scrolling through your feed — rather than promoting discovery of other communities, the first several videos recommended would be from the same subreddit.

Images of new Reddit features

Image Credits: Reddit, screenshots by TechCrunch

“Reddit’s mission is to bring community and belonging to everyone in the world, and subsequently, Reddit’s video team’s mission is to bring community through video,” a Reddit spokesperson told TechCrunch, about the new addition. “Over the course of the last year, our goal was to build a unified video player, and re-envision the player interface to match what users (new and old) expect when it comes to an in-app video player — especially commenting, viewing, engaging, and discovering new content and communities through video,” they noted.

Reddit doesn’t yet have a timeline for when the feature will roll out to everyone, but confirmed that this icon first appeared for some users in late July and has continued to roll out to almost all iOS users. But by placing a broader, yet still personalized video feed on the home screen, Reddit is signaling a growing curiosity in short form video. In December 2020, Reddit acquired Dubsmash, a Brooklyn-via-Berlin-based TikTok competitor. The terms of the deals were undisclosed, but Facebook and Snap also reportedly showed interest in the platform, which hit 1 billion monthly views in January 2020.

Reddit declined to comment on whether or not its new video player is using an algorithm to promote discovery of new subreddits based on user activity. However, a Reddit spokesperson confirmed that the company will use Dubsmash’s technology to develop other features down the road, though not for this particular product, they said.

Reddit first launched its native video platform in 2017, which allows users to upload MP4 and MOV files to the site. Then, in August 2019, it launched RPAN (Reddit Public Access Network), which lets people livestream to the r/pan subreddit — the most popular live streams are promoted across the platform. Reddit currently attracts 50 million daily active visitors and hosts 100,000 active subreddits.

#apps, #dubsmash, #mobile, #reddit, #reels, #short-form-video, #social, #spotlight, #tiktok, #video

TikTok launches Jump, a third-party integration tool

TikTok announced today the launch of its Jump program, which expands the app’s potential for third-party integrations. TikTok began beta-testing this feature in February with Whisk, a recipe-sharing app, though only select creators could use the feature. Now, Jump will start rolling out to all users with an expanded slate of partners.

Jumps can only be built by third-party providers after being approved through an application process. Platforms like BreathwrkWikipediaQuizletStatMuse, and Tabelog participated in the beta test, and now, TikTok says providers like BuzzFeedJumpropeIRL, and WATCHA will begin implementing their own Jumps in the coming weeks. So, an educational creator could link to Quizlet flashcards to review a concept they explained in a TikTok, or a yoga instructor could share breathing exercises on Breathwrk. For a platform that doesn’t even let all users include a link in their bio yet, this expands the existing tools creators have to engage their audience.

Image Credits: TikTok

TikTok is positioning Jump as a feature that propels discovery. Sean Kim, Head of Product, TikTok US writes, “TikTok has become a destination both to be entertained and to learn; through TikTok Jump, we’re creating that ‘last mile’ of our community’s discovery journey and helping to spark action and deeper interaction both on and off the platform.”

Jump seems similar to competitor Snapchat’s Minis feature, which are lightweight, simplified versions of apps that live in the Chat section of the app. Both Minis and Jump integrations can be built using HTML5. WeChat facilitates over $250 billion dollars in annual transactions through its own mini apps – there were over a million mini apps on WeChat as of 2018.

While Instagram has been ramping up its e-commerce features on Reels, its TikTok competitor, it’s possible that Jump could later be used to sell items featured in a video. In December, Walmart piloted video shopping on TikTok, which performed well enough that they did it again in March. But for now, it seems like Jump is being used to improve user experience and deepen the platform’s relationships with third-party partners.

#apps, #buzzfeed, #bytedance, #computing, #head, #jumprope, #quizlet, #reels, #software, #tiktok, #video-hosting, #walmart

Instagram’s TikTok rival, Reels, rolls out ads worldwide

Instagram Reels are getting ads. The company announced today it’s launching ads in its short-form video platform and TikTok rival, Reels, to businesses and advertisers worldwide. The ads will be up to 30 seconds in length, like Reels themselves, and vertical in format, similar to ads found in Instagram Stories. Also like Reels, the new ads will loop, and people will be able to like, comment, and save them, the same as other Reels videos.

The company had previously tested Reels ads in select markets earlier this year, including India, Brazil, Germany, and Australia, then expanded those tests to Canada, France, the U.K. and the U.S. more recently. Early adopters of the new format have included brands like BMW, Nestlé (Nespresso), Louis Vuitton, Netflix, Uber, and others.

Instagram tells us the ads will appear in most places users view Reels content, including on the Reels tab, Reels in Stories, Reels in Explore, and Reels in your Instagram Feed, and will appear in between individual Reels posted by users. However, in order to be served a Reels ad, the user first needs to be in the immersive, full-screen Reels viewer.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company couldn’t say how often a user might see a Reels ad, noting that the number of ads a viewer may encounter will vary based on how they use Instagram. But the company is monitoring user sentiment around ads themselves, and the overall commercially of Reels, it says.

Like Instagram’s other advertising products, Reels ads will launch with an auction-based model. But so far, Instagram is declining to share any sort of performance metrics around how those ads are doing, based on tests. Nor is it yet offering advertisers any creator tools or templates that could help them get started with Reels ads. Instead, Instagram likey assumes advertisers already have creative assets on hand or know how to make them, because of Reels ads’ similarities to other vertical video ads found elsewhere, including on Instagram’s competitors.

While vertical video has already shown the potential for driving consumers to e-commerce shopping sites, Instagram hasn’t yet taken advantage of Reels ads to drive users to its built-in Instagram Shops, though that seems like a natural next step as it attempts to tie the different parts of its app together.

But perhaps ahead of that step, Instagram needs to make Reels a more compelling destination — something other TikTok rivals, which now include both Snap and YouTube — have done by funding creator content directly. Instagram, meanwhile, had made offers to select TikTok stars directly.

The launch of Instagram Reels ads follows news of TikTok’s climbing ad prices. Bloomberg reported this month that TikTok is now asking for more than $1.4 million for a home page takeover ad in the U.S., as of the third quarter, which will jump to $1.8 million by Q4 and more than $2 million on a holiday. Though the company is still building its ads team and advertisers haven’t yet allocated large portions of their video budget to the app, that tends to follow user growth — and TikTok now has over 100 million monthly active users in the U.S.

Both apps, Instagram and TikTok, now have over a billion monthly active users on a global basis, though Reels is only a part of the larger Instagram platform. For comparison, Instagram Stories is used by some 500 million users, which demonstrates Instagram’s ability to drive traffic to different areas of its app. Instagram declined to share how many users Reels has as of today.

#advertising, #advertising-tech, #apps, #digital-marketing, #instagram, #instagram-reels, #mobile, #mobile-software, #online-advertising, #reels, #short-form-video, #social, #social-media-marketing, #tiktok, #vertical-video, #video, #video-hosting

Instagram adds a captions option for Stories and soon, Reels

Instagram is making its video Stories and Reels more accessible with the launch of a new “captions sticker” that will allow users to watch without having the sound on. The addition will not only make it easier for users who are hard of hearing or deaf to engage with video content, it also offers a way for users to watch videos when they’re somewhere they don’t want to have their sound on — and either don’t want to wear or don’t have access headphones or earbuds.

To use the feature, creators will first record a new video using the Stories or Reels Camera in the Instagram app, or select a video to upload from their phone’s gallery. Then, you’ll open the sticker tray and look for the new “Captions” sticker, which will convert your speech to text. You can also edit the style, position of the caption, and the text and color so it matches your content. When you post, the captions will appear alongside your video for everyone to see.

At launch, the feature is only available in English and in English-speaking countries, but Instagram plans to roll it out to other countries and languages soon, it says. It’s also rolling out the captions sticker first to Stories and will then begin testing it in Reels, with a broader launch to follow.

The captions sticker had been spotted last year while in development, alongside other potential new additions, like a Collab sticker, Link sticker, Reshare sticker, and others. Instagram parent Facebook also appears to have a captions sticker of its own in development. The sticker then began testing earlier this spring with some number of Instagram users.

The addition comes only weeks after TikTok announced its own captions feature, which it calls auto captions. The two products are somewhat different, however. Auto captions automatically translate the speech from a TikTok video in either American English and Japanese, to start, but the text itself isn’t customizable and can be turned on or off by the viewer from the app’s share panel. It also hasn’t yet been broadly adopted and many TikTok creators tend to still use captions they create themselves or via third-party apps.

Instagram notes it had previously launched support for captions across Threads and IGTV, but its expansion to Stories and Reels will make more of an impact, given that instagram Stories alone is used by over 500 million people every day.

#accessibility, #apps, #captions, #creators, #deaf, #facebook, #instagram, #media, #mobile, #reels, #social, #stories, #video, #videos

Instagram officially launches Remix on Reels, a TikTok Duets-like feature

Instagram today is officially launching a new feature called Remix, which offers a way to record your Reels video alongside a video from another user. The option is similar to TikTok’s existing Duets feature, which also lets users to react to or interact with another person’s video content while creating their own. Instagram’s new feature has been in public testing before today, so some Instagram users may have already gained access.

We recently reported on Instagram’s plans with Remix, when noting that Snapchat was developing a Remix feature of its own. In fact, Snapchat is also using the name “Remix” for its TikTok Duets rival that’s currently in development.

On TikTok, Duets are a key part to making the app feel more like a social network and less of just a passive video-watching experience. Users take advantage of Duets to sing, dance, joke or act alongside another user’s video. They will do things like cook someone else’s recipe, record a reaction video, or even just watch a video from a smaller creator to give them a boost.

Meanwhile, TikTok competitors — like Instagram Reels, Snapchat’s Spotlight or YouTube’s Shorts, for example — have launched their short-form video experiences without a full set of engagement or editing features like TikTok has, making their apps feel like pale knock-offs of the original. Remix on Reels is a first step towards changing that perception, by giving users at least one important option to engage and collaborate with their fellow creatives.

To use the new Remix feature, you’ll first tap on the three-dot menu on a Reel and select the new “Remix this Reel” option. The screen will then split into the original Reel and your own new one, where you can begin to record side-by-side with the original. When you’ve finished, you can tweak other aspects of the recording like the volume of the original video or your audio and you can optionally add a voiceover. After applying these or any other edits, you can publish the Remix.

The feature will only be available on newly uploaded Reels — so unfortunately, if you want your older Reels to be duetted, you’ll need to reupload them, it seems.

Image Credits: Instagram

Your Remixes will appear alongside any other Reels you’ve recorded on the Reels tab on your Instagram profile, and you’ll be able to track who has remixed your content through Instagram’s Activity tab.

The feature is rolling out, starting today, says Instagram.

#apps, #duets, #facebook, #instagram, #mobile-applications, #reel, #reels, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #tiktok, #video

Instagram launches shopping in Reels, its TikTok rival

Instagram today is launching Shopping in Reels, its TikTok competitor. The new feature was announced in October as something the company had in the works, as part of a ongoing series of shopping-related updates to the Instagram app. With today’s launch, both businesses and creators will be able to tag products when they create Reels — the short-form videos that now have their own tab in Instagram following last month’s redesign.

The company says many Reels already feature shopping content, like fashion looks, makeup and skincare, or other product how-tos. When people view an Instagram Reel with this content, they’ll be able to now tap a “View Products” button to either buy, save or learn more about the featured products.

Image Credits: Instagram

In addition, creators can add a “Branded Content” tag to their Reels to be transparent about when they’re working with a brand to promote their products, which is a form of paid promotion.

The update makes shopping an even larger focus for Instagram than it already was, and arrives at a time when video-based shopping is seeing increased adoption. In particular, a growing number of startups focused on live-stream video shopping are finding traction. In recent months, investors have backed companies like live shopping platforms Popshop Live and Bambuser, for example, while major tech companies, including Alibaba, Amazon, Google and JD.com, have also joined the video shopping trend in various ways.

Image Credits: Instagram

Most importantly, perhaps, is that Instagram rival TikTok recently partnered with Shopify on e-commerce and today caters to brands that either advertise directly or work with influencers on its platform, eating into Instagram’s market. TikTok had also fielded interest from Walmart, when the Trump ban had forced the company to enter negotiations around a U.S. exit. And TikTok’s app in 2020 beat out Instagram as one of the world’s most downloaded apps, indicating a seismic shift in how younger users interact with social media.

Hoping to not be left behind, Instagram has revamped its app — to much user criticism when it relocated key home screen features — with the goal of becoming a top online shopping destination, as well. The company generates revenue when customers checkout in the app using Facebook Pay, which will allow it to make money outside of running ads.

Today, Instagram users can shop from videos in Feed, Stories, Live, IGTV and, with this latest launch, Reels.

The company says the feature is rolling out globally, starting today.

#apps, #instagram, #reels, #shopping, #social, #tiktok

Instagram expands shopping on IGTV, plans test of shopping on Reels

Instagram this morning announced the global expansion of its Instagram Shopping service across IGTV. The product, which lets you watch a video then checkout with a few taps, offers creators and influencers a way to more directly monetize their user base on Instagram, while also giving brands a way to sell merchandise to their followers. Instagram said it would also soon begin testing shopping within its newer feature and TikTok rival, Reels.

Image Credits: Instagram

Shopping has become a larger part of the Instagram experience over the past few years.

Instagram’s Explore section in 2018 gained a personalized Shopping channel filled with the things Instagram believed you’d want the most. It also expanded Shopping tags to Stories. Last year, it launched Checkout, a way to transact within the app when you saw something you wanted to buy. And just this summer, Instagram redesigned its dedicated Shop section, now powered by Facebook Pay.

Today, Instagram users can view products and make purchases across IGTV, Instagram Live, and Stories.

On IGTV, users can either complete the purchase via the in-app checkout or they can visit the seller’s website to buy. However, the expectation is that many shoppers will choose to pay for their items without leaving the app, for convenience’s sake. This allows Instagram to collect selling fees on those purchases. At scale, this can produce a new revenue stream for the company — particularly now as consumers shop online more than ever, due to the coronavirus pandemic’s acceleration of e-commerce.

In the future, Instagram says its shoppable IGTV videos will be made discoverable on Instagram Shop, as well.

Given its intention to make shopping a core part of the Instagram platform, it’s not surprising that the company intends to make Reels shoppable, too.

“Digital creators and brands help bring emerging culture to Instagram, and people come to Instagram to get inspired by them. By bringing shopping to IGTV and Reels, we’re making it easy to shop directly from videos. And in turn, helping sellers share their story, reach customers, and make a living,” said Instagram COO Justin Osofsky, in a statement.

Instagram isn’t alone in seeing the potential for shopping inspired by short-form video content. Walmart’s decision to try to acquire a stake in TikTok is tied to the growing “social commerce” trend which mixes together social media and online shopping to create a flurry of demand for new products — like a modern-day QVC aimed at Gen Z and broadcast across smartphones’ small screens.

By comparison, TikTok so far has only dabbled with social commerce. It has run select ad tests, like a partnership with Levi’s during the early days of the pandemic to create influencer-created ads that appeared in users’ feeds and directed users’ to Levi’s website. It has also experimented with allowing users to add links to e-commerce sites to TikTok profiles and other features.

Instagram didn’t say when Reels would gain shopping features, beyond “later this year.”

 

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #facebook, #igtv, #instagram, #mobile-e-commerce, #online-shopping, #reels, #shopping, #social

Instagram’s TikTok clone Reels updates to allow longer videos, easier edits

Instagram is today rolling out a few changes to its TikTok competitor, Reels, after early reviews of the feature criticized its design and reports indicated it was failing to gain traction. The company says it’s responding to user feedback on a few fronts, by giving Reels users the ability to create longer videos, extend the timer, and by adding tools to trim and delete clips for easier editing.

TikTok helped popularize the short, 15-second video — its default setting. But its app also allows videos up to a minute in length, which is a popular option. Reels, however, launched with support for only the 15-second video. Not surprisingly, the Reels community of early adopters has been asking for the ability to create longer videos, similar to TikTok.

But Instagram isn’t giving them the full one minute. Instead, it’s adding the ability to create a Reel up to 30 seconds long. This could force users to create original content for Reels, instead of repurposing their longer TikTok videos on Instagram.

Image Credits: Instagram

The company says it will also now allow users to extend the timer up to 10 seconds and will allow users to trim and delete clips to make editing simpler.

“We continue to improve Reels based on people’s feedback, and these updates make it easier to create and edit. While it’s still early, we’re seeing a lot of entertaining, creative content,” said Instagram Reels Director, Tessa Lyons-Laing.

The tweaks to the video creation and editing process could help to simplify some of the more troublesome pain points, but don’t fully address the problems facing Reels.

What makes TikTok so easy to use is that you don’t have to be a great video editor to make what appear to be fairly polished, short-form videos synced to music. With TikTok’s Sound Sync feature, for example, the app can automatically find music that synchronizes with your video clips, if you don’t want to take full control of the editing experience.

On Reels, there’s more manual editing involved in terms of locating the right music and matching it up with your edits — which you have to do yourself, instead of leaving it up to the tech to do for you.

Image Credits: Instagram

And despite being a shameless attempt at being a TikTok clone, Reels lacks other TikTok features, like duets or its “Family Pairing” parental controls. It also makes it difficult to figure out how to share videos more privately. Reels can be posted to Stories, where they disappear, or they can appear on your profile in their own tab — which is a confusing design choice. Plus, the integration of Reels in the Instagram app contributes to app bloat. TikTok is an entire social network, but Reels is trying to squeeze that broader creative experience into a much smaller box alongside so many other features, like Stories, Shopping, Live Video, IGTV, and more standard photo and video publishing. It feels like too much.

That said, Reels has managed to onboard a number of high-profile users. Today, it’s touting top Reels from creators like Billy Porter, Blair Imani, Doug the Pug, Prince William and Kate, and Eitan Bernath as examples of its creative content.

Even though TikTok’s fate is still a big question mark in the U.S., it’s not clear, at this point, if Instagram will be poised to absorb the TikTok audience in the event of a ban.

Instagram says the option to create 30 second Reels is rolling out today, while the new trimming and editing features are live now. The Timer extension will also roll out in the next few days.

The features will be available in the 50 countries worldwide where Reels is available and elsewhere, as Reels expands to new markets.

#apps, #facebook, #instagram, #reels, #social, #social-media, #tiktok, #video

Instagram Reels launches globally in over 50 countries, including US

Instagram Reels, the company’s significant effort in challenging TikTok on short-form creative content, is launching globally, starting today. The feature is being made available across 50 countries, including the U.S., as TechCrunch had previously reported. The expansion means Reels will now be available in key international markets, such as India, Brazil, France, Germany, the U.K., Japan, Australia, Spain, Mexico, Argentina and several others.

The timing is fortuitous, given TikTok’s uncertain future in the U.S. as the Trump administration weighs either banning the Chinese-owned app entirely or forcing it to sell off its U.S. operations.

However, Facebook’s plans to respond to the TikTok threat were underway well before now.

In late 2018, Facebook launched a TikTok clone called Lasso. The app didn’t take off and was shuttered this year. Though unsuccessful as a standalone product, Lasso represents Facebook’s ability to run what are essentially large-scale beta tests that don’t have to generate revenue. This allows Facebook to collect a sizable amount of user behavioral data that can then be put to use when building new features for flagship apps, like it’s doing with Instagram Reels.

Following Lasso’s tests, Instagram released Reels in Brazil in November 2019, where it was called Cenas, to see how Instagram users would respond to a different sort of mobile video experience.

Those tests steadily expanded outside the U.S. to markets like India and parts of Europe in 2020.

With Reels, Instagram’s goal is not just to capture the now potentially up-for-grabs TikTok audience in the U.S. — it’s to steal them away even if TikTok remains.

Image Credits: Instagram

Today, Instagram caters to a certain kind of creator community that doesn’t always overlap with the younger, Gen Z (and up) user base that’s found a home on TikTok. (And Gen Alpha, if we’re being honest.) Instead, Instagram users either share polished, curated photos to their Feed; publish personal and casual videos in Stories; or share almost YouTube-like creator content to IGTV. Meanwhile, Instagram’s browsing experience hasn’t offered a way to quickly swipe through videos like on TikTok.

Image Credits: Instagram

Reels aims to change that. The feature lets users create and publish 15-second videos using a new set of editing tools that include options like AR effects, a countdown timer, a new align tool to line up different takes and, of course, music. Instagram’s deals with major record labels mean users won’t have to wonder if their sound will later be removed due to a rights issue and will offer a variety of musical content right out of the gate.

A comprehensive audio catalog could be a competitive advantage for Reels — not to mention a feature that’s difficult for smaller apps to acquire due to the complicated nature of record label negotiations.

When TikTok users recently descended on rival apps upon news of a potential TikTok ban in the U.S., one of their chief complaints was the lack of good music or popular sounds. Some even republished their favorites under hashtags like #sounds or #TikToksounds in an effort to rebuild TikTok’s catalog via user-generated uploads.

Instagram understood the importance of music — not just editing tools, workflow and discovery — in helping its TikTok competitor thrive. TikTok, after all, has its own record label contracts — though the extent of those deals haven’t been widely published.

“We think it’s really important to honor the rights of the music labels — and that’s one we’ve been working on for years now,” said Instagram head of Product, Vishal Shah. “We’re launching Reels now in countries where we have rights. We think that the catalog is quite deep and it has some unique content that you can’t really find, at that depth, in other platforms. At the same time, we wanted to make sure that all the restrictions that we needed to put in place — whether that was on the country basis or what could people download and use and remix etc. — were all built into the product from from day one. That’s something we’ve been working with the labels on and was an important consideration in the launch,” he added.

What he didn’t mention is that Instagram’s music industry relationships aren’t only with the record labels. The company has deals with other publishers and independents as well, which have been part of the company’s ongoing partnership efforts and strategic negotiations that are helping fuel other Facebook products, like the recent launch of Music Videos. 

Image Credits: Instagram

Using Reels is easy because it’s built into the Instagram Camera that people already know how to use. To create a new Reel, you’ll select the option at the bottom of the Instagram Camera, next to Story. The editing tools then pop up on the left side of the screen, which is where you’ll find the AR effects and other options, like the timer, speed and align features.

Like other Instagram posts, Reels can be saved to Drafts while they’re a work in progress. When ready to go live, Reels can be pushed out across key surfaces in the app — including Stories, Stories with Close Friends only or as a DM. If you have a public Instagram account, you also can publish Reels to the wider Instagram audience, which will discover them within a new space in Explore.

Image Credits: Instagram

Reels can also be captioned and hashtagged, and friends can be tagged — allowing Instagram to leverage the size and scale of its user base to help the new feature go viral. If Reels are published to Stories, they’ll disappear in 24 hours. Otherwise, Reels will continue to live on in a new tab on users’ profiles.

To watch Reels from Explore, users are presented in a vertical feed personalized to your interests, similar to TikTok. “Featured” Reels are those chosen by Instagram to guide users to original content and will be labeled accordingly.

Overall, what Instagram has built isn’t all that differentiated from TikTok. But nor is it a direct clone.

Instead, Instagram has turned the entirety of the TikTok experience into a single feature among many others within its own app. That’s been a formula for success in the past — Instagram Stories is now bigger than all of Snapchat, for instance.

But TikTok has built something that may not be as easily replicated: a community of users who started their social media lives with underage accounts on Musical.ly. They grew up with the app, lived through the TikTok rebranding and now may see no need to switch — unless TikTok actually does disappear.

Or, as my tween put it when a friend told her TikTok wasn’t really going to be banned: “So Instagram built Reels for nothing?”

#apps, #facebook, #instagram, #instagram-reels, #reels, #social, #tiktok, #video, #video-apps

Instagram confirms its TikTok rival, Reels, will launch in the US in early August

Instagram confirmed it’s preparing to soon launch its TikTok competitor, known as Reels, in the U.S. The company expects to bring the new video feature — which is designed specifically for short-form, creative content — to its platform in early August, according to a spokesperson. The U.S. launch comes shortly after Reels’ arrival in India this month, following a ban of TikTok in that market. Reels has also been tested in Brazil, France, and Germany.

NBC News reported this morning Instagram would arrive in the U.S. and more than 50 other countries in a matter of weeks, citing sources familiar with the matter.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the U.S. (and international) launch, saying “We’re excited to bring Reels to more countries, including the U.S., in early August,” without providing specific details of which further markets will be added.

“The community in our test countries has shown so much creativity in short-form video, and we’ve heard from creators and people around the world that they’re eager to get started as well,” the spokesperson added.

Reels was designed to directly challenge TikTok’s growing dominance. In a new area in the Instagram app, Reels allows users to create and post short, 15-second videos set to music or other audio, similar to TikTok. Also like TikTok, Reels offers a set of editing tools — like a countdown timer and tools to adjust the video’s speed, for example — that aim to make it easier to record creative content. Instagram, however, doesn’t have the same sort of two-tabbed, scrollable feed, like TikTok offers today.

The move to more quickly roll out Reels to more markets comes as TikTok has come under intense scrutiny for its ties to China. India banned the app, along with 58 other mobile applications designed by Chinese firms, in June. The Trump administration more recently said it was considering a similar ban on TikTok, for reasons related to national security. Yesterday, it said such a decision could be just weeks away.

Since the news of a possible ban hit, other TikTok rivals got a boost in the charts, including Byte, Triller, Dubsmash, and Likee, for example. Snapchat also began testing TikTok-like navigation for its public video content, and YouTube is running a smaller test of its own.

Because of Instagram’s reach, it has a shot at stepping in to pick up tens of millions of U.S. users if TikTok disappears. But TikTok users may not jump en masse to a single new app if a ban takes place. Already there are signs of the TikTok community splintering — dancers prefer apps like Dubsmash and Triller, while young Gen Z’ers like Byte, for example.

No exact launch date for Instagram Reels in the U.S. was provided.

#apps, #facebook, #instagram, #reels, #social, #tiktok, #video

Whether or not the Trump administration bans TikTok, it’s already helping Facebook

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. is “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including the Chinese-owned company TikTok, comparing it to other Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE that have been deemed national security threats by the current administration. “With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you that the United States will get this one right, too,” Pompeo said.

The fear is the app could be used to surveil or influence Americans, or else that TikTok parent ByteDance could be made to provide the Chinese government with TikTok’s data on its U.S.-based users — of which there are at least 165 million. India, calling TikTok a “threat to sovereignty and integrity,” decided to ban the app late last week, saying it had similar concerns.

Though security experts disagree over how concerned the U.S. should be about TikTok, the move would would undoubtedly hobble what has become one of the fastest-growing social media businesses on the planet, with 800 million monthly active users worldwide, half of whom are under age 24. In the meantime, the mere suggestion of a ban is proving a boon to TikTok’s biggest rival, Facebook — and notably at a time when the U.S. company faces growing scrutiny over its decision not to take action on multiple controversial posts from Donald Trump.

The threat is already prompting some to speculate that Pompeo’s warning was politically motivated. In a new interview with Axios, for example, L.A.-based talent manager John Shahidi observes that TikTok users have said they were partially responsible for a Trump rally in Oklahoma two weeks ago that failed to deliver huge crowds.

Shahidi — whose agency currently oversees nine “channels” on TikTok that collectively enjoy than 100 million followers — doesn’t doubt the two are related. “I’m on TikTok a lot,” Shahidi says of the short-form video app, and “there are no Trump supporters, no official Trump account; no one who is from his team is on TikTok.”

Is it “just coincidence that we’re heading toward [the election], and the one app that doesn’t support him — with everything happening in the world — we’re going to talk about taking down TikTok?” he asks.

Already, TikTok influencers are more actively promoting their other social media channels to their followers as a kind of contingency plan. Soon to join them is rising social media star Pierson Wodzynski, a 21-year-old who ran track in high school and was taking a break from studying communications in college when, in January, a friend invited her to participate in a show on AwesomenessTV, a YouTube channel that has more than 8 million subscribers.

The show’s set-up centered around nabbing a date with social media star Brent Rivera, who has 13 million YouTube subscribers, 19.8 million Instagram followers, and more than 30 million TikTok fans. But afterward, Wodzynski found herself with the L.A.-based talent agency that Rivera cofounded two years ago called Amp Studios and in recent months, aided by special guest appearances by Rivera, she has built a substantial fanbase herself, with 500,000 subscribers on YouTube, 455,000 Instagram followers, and a stunning 4.1 million fans on TikTok.

Wodzynski says her followers seem to like the comedy bits she develops, such a recent series on the “things that go wrong when you’re running late,” and another on the “Appdashians,” wherein each character is a different social media company. (Notably, Facebook is the old grandmother character.)  Says Wodzynski, who comes across as both confident and affable, “I’m so unbelievably myself [on social media], it’s crazy.”

She is also concerned about the TikTok’s future in the U.S. Partly, she simply enjoys it. (“It’s just a great app to escape, and it’s so different, with a vast music library and editing software that other apps don’t have.”) But it’s also the source of most of her income, she says, explaining that she helps promote the brands with which Amp Studios works, including Chipotle. (“A lot of times it’s me dancing to a popular song and holding the product, or developing a creative advertisement so it looks enjoyable.”)

Wodzynski says she is “ready for anything,” and that if the U.S. bans the platform, she trusts it will do so for legitimate reasons. “There are many other roads to take your content,”  she says. The importance of diversifying across social platforms is something that Max Levine, who cofounded Amp with Rivera, gives to all of the firm’s talent, he says.

“‘Diversify’ is a good mantra for life,” says Levine, who claims he learned this lesson early when Vine — the once-popular video app that Twitter acquired, then subsequently shut down — “fizzled and died.” Levine points to early Vine stars like Logan Paul and Rivera himself who “were smart and focused on building platforms on Instagram and YouTube” and who not only emerged unscathed when Vine was shuttered but whose popularity ballooned afterward.

He says that Amp’s clients have always “promoted other socials on TikTok,” to steer them to YouTube videos, for example, and that he’d prefer that they not start being more aggressive on this front. “They’ve been doing it naturally over time. I think if every other TikTok mentions [a call to action], it could be a lot.”

Still, a few minutes on TikTok underscores that growing percentage of its users has begun talking about Instagram, which requires far less effort than does developing a fan-pleasing YouTube video. With the threat of a ban in the air, Wodzynski — who says she saw her view count go down with India’s recent ban of TikTok — isn’t immune to the impulse. “Actually, later today I will be posting something on Tiktok about this whole banning thing and reminding people that if they want to follow my Instagram and Youtube that ‘this is what I post there,’” she says.

“I do that pretty regularly, but I’m gong to step it up in more in the coming days and weeks.”

In the meantime, Facebook is already putting together its newest playbook. Just yesterday, in India, Instagram rolled out a video-sharing feature called Reels to fill the void left by TikTok that sounds very much like a clone. The in-app tool invites users to record 15-second videos set to music and audio, then upload them to their stories. As CNN notes, Facebook began testing the feature in Brazil last November. The feature is now available in France and Germany, too.

India not only indefinitely banned Tiktok but 58 other apps and services provided by Chinese-based firms, including Tencent’s WeChat. But the country’s government enjoys a good relationship with Facebook, which recently nabbed a 10% stake in local telecom giant Jio Platforms.

In fact, in February, before a trip to India, Donald Trump talked about Facebook and ranking that both he and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoy on the platform. He said Modi is “number two” on Facebook in terms of followers, and that he is number one as told to him directly by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

As reported in the Economic Times, Trump said at the time: “I’m going to India next week, and we’re talking about — you know, they have 1.5 billion people. And Prime Minister Modi is number two on Facebook, number two. Think of that. You know who number one is? Trump. You believe that? Number one. I just found out.”

#ban, #facebook, #india, #influencer, #john-shahidi, #reels, #tc, #tiktok

Facebook expands Instagram Reels to India

As scores of startups look to cash in on the video content void that ban on TikTok and other Chinese apps has created in India, a big challenger is ready to try its hand.

Instagram said on Wednesday it is rolling out Reels — a feature that allows users to create short-form videos (up to 15 seconds long) set to music or other audio — to a “broad” user base in India. The Facebook -owned service first began testing Reels late last year.

Video is already a popular way how many Indians engage on Instagram. “Videos make up over a third of all posts in India,” said Ajit Mohan, the head of Facebook India, in a call with reporters Wednesday. And in general, about 45% of all videos posted on Instagram are of 15 seconds or shorter, said Vishal Shah, VP of Product at Facebook.

So a broad test of Reels, which is also currently being tested in Brazil, France, and Germany, in India was only natural, he said, dismissing the characterization that the new feature’s ability had anything to do with a recent New Delhi order.

India banned 59 apps and services developed by Chinese firms citing privacy and security concerns last week. Among the apps that have been blocked in the country includes TikTok, ByteDance’s app that has offered a similar functionality as Reels for years.

TikTok identified India as its biggest market outside of China. Late last year, TikTok said it had amassed over 200 million users in the country, and the firm was looking to expand that figure to at least 300 million this year.

In the event of TikTok’s absence, a number of startups including Twitter-backed Sharechat, Chingari, InMobi Group’s Roposo, and Mitron have ramped up their efforts and have claimed to court tens of millions of users. Sharechat said it had doubled its daily active users in a matter of days to more than 25 million.

Gaana, a music streaming service owned by Indian conglomerate Times Internet, rolled out HotShots on Tuesday that curates user generated videos. Gaana had more than 150 million monthly active users as of earlier this year.

But Instagram, which has already attracted tens of thousands of influencers in India, is perhaps best positioned to take on TikTok in the world’s second largest internet market. Instagram had about 165 million monthly active users last month, up from 110 million in June last year, according to mobile insights firm App Annie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. Mohan declined to comment on Instagram’s user base in India.

Mohan said he was hopeful that Instagram Reels would enable several content creators in India to gain followers globally. The platform has already courted several popular names including Ammy Virk, Gippy Grewal, Komal Pandey, Jahnavi Dasetty aka Mahathalli, Indrani Biswas aka Wondermunna, Radhika Bangia, RJ Abhinav and Ankush Bhaguna.

Reels videos will appear on Instagram’s Explore tab, enabling users to reach a broader audience than their own following base. Users can also share Reels as “Stories” though in that case the video will not appear in Explore tab and will disappear after 24 hours.

In recent years, platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram have attracted more than a million content creators, several of whom have made it their livelihood. Just as equally impressive is who these creators are: Beauticians, dieticians, high school students from small towns in India, elderly who speak languages that very few people understand.

People who have been massively underrepresented in mainstream Bollywood movies and speeches of politicians have found a platform and gained a following that challenged the mainstream media’s reach. Many of these creators were making thousands of dollars through advertisers and deals with brands. Not everyone will, however, be able to find a replacement of TikTok.

Sajith Pai, Director at venture firm Blume, told TechCrunch that YouTube and Instagram would be able to court the top influencers from TikTok and other platforms. “But beyond a point, they won’t be bandying out much incentive to other creators.”

In the run up to the launch of Reels, Facebook has secured deals with several Indian music labels including Saregama in India. Also ahead of Reels’ availability in India, Facebook announced it was shutting down Lasso, its another attempt at taking on short-form videos.

Instagram Lite, another Facebook app that is especially popular in developing markets, was pulled from Google Play Store last month. When asked about it, Shah said the company has identified some issues in it and is working to resolve those.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #gaana, #india, #instagram, #instagram-reels, #reels, #social, #tiktok

Instagram Reels arrives in India following TikTok’s ban

In the wake of India’s decision to ban TikTok and dozens of other Chinese apps over privacy concerns, Instagram has expanded its TikTok rival, known as Reels, in the region. The test in India also comes only days after Facebook announced its standalone TikTok clone, Lasso, would be shutting down on July 10.

In addition to India, Instagram Reels is live in Brazil, and as of recently, France and Germany. But an Instagram spokesperson hints the expansion may go even broader, without offering specific details.

Business Insider India was the first to report on Reels’ expansion in India, citing unnamed sources for the discovery. It says the expansion is still a “test.”

“We’re planning to start testing an updated version of Reels in more countries,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch, when asked about the feature’s arrival in India. “Reels,” they added, “is a fun, creative way for people to both express themselves and be entertained.”

Unlike Lasso, which had been its own separate app, Reels has been designed to be a feature within Instagram itself. Reels allows users to create and post short, 15-second videos set to music or other audio, similar to TikTok. Also like TikTok, the feature offers a set of editing tools — like a countdown timer and those that adjust the video’s speed, for example — that aim to make it easier to record creative content. However, Instagram doesn’t have the same sort of two-tabbed, scrollable feed, like TikTok offers, just for watching Reels’ content.

Following the launch of Reels last year in Brazil, Instagram updated the feature based on user feedback. Users said they wanted a space to compile their Reels and watch those made by others. To address these concerns, Instagram moved Reels to a dedicated space on the user Profile page and now features Reels in its Explore section, if they’re published by a public account. That gives Reels the potential to go viral by catching the eye of Instagram users who don’t yet follow the creator’s account. (Before, Reels had been only available to Instagram Stories, which limited their exposure.)

The arrival Reels is timely for a number of reasons. For starters, Facebook in June announced it had entered a global deal with Saregama, one of India’s largest music labels, which would allow it to license music for videos and other social experiences across both Facebook and Instagram. Facebook also has agreements with other Indian labels, including Yash Raj Films, Zee Music Company and T-Series. However, the addition of Saregama may have cleared the path for Reels, given the breadth of its content, which includes over 100,000 tracks like those from Indian music legends, plus Bollywood tunes, devotional music, ghazals, indipop and others.

But mainly, it’s ideal timing for Reels to come to India, given the country’s decision to ban TikTok.

The ban on Chinese apps knocked out TikTok from its largest overseas market, leaving a massive opportunity for Instagram to swoop in and pick up new users for Reels. Before its removal, TikTok had amassed more than 200 million users in India, which is a significant loss for the Beijing-headquartered video app.

But Instagram is not without competition for those users. Reuters recently reported a surge in popularity for other Indian video-sharing apps, like Roposo, Chingari and Mitron, for example. Roposo even saw its user base jump by 22 million in the two days after India banned TikTok, the report noted.

Instagram didn’t indicate when Reels would launch in other key markets, like the U.S.

(Updated 7/6/20, 1:30 PM ET to clarify India is considered a test market for Reels, as opposed to an official launch.) 

 

#apps, #india, #instagram, #reels, #social-media, #tiktok

Facebook is shutting down Lasso, its TikTok clone

Facebook is no longer betting on Lasso, an app it launched a year and a half ago, to take on TikTok . The social juggernaut’s TikTok clone is shutting down on July 10, Lasso alerted users on Wednesday.

Launched in late 2018, Lasso was seen as Facebook’s answer to TikTok that’s gained ground with young users, both in China and in the West. Lasso allowed users shoot up to 15-second long videos and overlay popular songs. The app centered around an algorithmic feed of recommended videos, but also allowed users to tap through hashtags or a Browse page of themed collections.

As of February, Lasso was available in Colombia, Mexico, the U.S., Argentina, Chile, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Uruguay, research firm Sensor Tower told TechCrunch. Earlier this year, Facebook added support for Hindi language in Lasso, suggesting that it may have had plans to bring Lasso to India, its biggest market by users account.

Lasso’s demise comes ahead of the launch of Instagram Reels — the new horse Facebook is counting on to steal TikTok’s lunch, said Josh Constine, who first spotted Lasso’s announcement.

It’s unclear why Facebook never expanded Lasso to more markets. But what is clear is that Lasso’s journey was troubled from the beginning. Brady Voss, who led the development of this app, left Facebook days after the launch of Lasso.

We have reached out to Facebook for comment.

#apps, #asia, #facebook, #facebook-lasso, #instagram, #instagram-reels, #lasso, #reels, #social, #tiktok

Instagram expands its TikTok clone ‘Reels’ to new markets

Instagram is expanding its TikTok competitor known as “Reels” to new markets, following its launch last year in Brazil. Starting today, Instagram is rolling out further access to Reels in France and Germany, allowing users to record short, 15-second video clips set to music or other audio, then share them on the platform where they have the potential to go viral.

The Reels feature is similar to TikTok in that it presents a set of editing tools that make it easier to film creative videos. At launch, for example, Reels offered a countdown timer, the ability to adjust the video’s speed, and other effects.

The company learned from its early tests in Brazil and has since rethought key aspects to the Reels experience.

Before, Reels were meant to be shared only within Instagram Stories. But the Instagram community said they wanted the ability to share Reels with followers and friends in a more permanent way, and also have the opportunity to expand that distribution more broadly if desired.

In addition, the community said they wanted a dedicated space where they could easily compile Reels and watch other people’s Reels.

With the expansion in Germany and France, Instagram has moved Reels to a dedicated space on the user Profile and in Explore — the latter for public accounts — so people can share with a new audience and share on their Instagram Feed, a company spokesperson tells TechCrunch.

These changes offer the chance for more exposure for both Reels and their creators, as Reels becomes more of a destination in the app — like the Stories row is today, for instance.

Reels are not Facebook’s first attempt at challenging TikTok’s growing popularity.

The Instagram parent company had previously launched short-form video app Lasso, but it has so far failed to gain significant traction. With Reels, however, Instagram is able to tap into its existing base of creators and leverage users’ familiarity with its video editing tools.

The challenge for Reels is in getting Instagram users to create a different type of content than they do today in Feed posts and in Stories. Those video tend to be more personal in nature — like clips from someone’s day or a vlog, for example. Meanwhile, more professional creator content has been relocated to IGTV.

TikTok videos, on the other hand, tend to be rehearsed and choreographed. Users learn a dance, perform a trick, make jokes, lip-sync to songs or audio, or replicate a popular meme in their own way. These videos are not typically off-the-cuff, as on Instagram. Encouraging this content requires a different editing tool set and workflow, which is what Reels offers.

Instagram didn’t say when it plans to roll out Reels globally or when it expects to bring the product to the U.S., but says the further expansion will allow the company to continue to build on the existing experience and evolve the product.

#apps, #instagram, #reels, #social, #social-media, #tiktok, #videos