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Instagram's answer to TikTok, Reels, launches in the US

It's coming just as TikTok faces a potential ban.

Published onAugust 5, 2020

instagram reels
  • Instagram has made Reels available in over 50 countries, including the US and UK.
  • It’s a conspicuous competitor to TikTok focused on 15-second clips with music and effects.
  • It’s arriving just as TikTok faces a possible US ban.

Instagram has made good on its promise to launch its response to TikTok, Reels, in the US. The short video feature is rolling out in over 50 countries that include the US as well as the UK, Australia, and Japan. It’s available through both Android and iOS.

Like its arch-rival, Reels is focused around short video clips loaded with music and augmented reality visual effects. It’s not a carbon copy, however. Videos are capped at 15 seconds (though you can record multiple in a row), and they’re considered just one small part of Instagram that behave differently based on how you share them.

If you’re using a public account, you can share Reels to a dedicated Explore section (similar to TikTok’s “For You”) where anyone can see your videos. People can find your videos by searching for hashtags, songs, and effects. You can share Reels through your main feed, too. Private accounts, meanwhile, can’t share to Explore or non-followers but can also protect their original audio. And if you share Reels to Stories or direct messages, they’ll remain private and vanish in 24 hours.

instagram reels share

Some TikTok staples are missing, such as song uploads and “duets” where you add your own video to someone else’s. For now, would-be stars who aren’t already part of Instagram’s music library will have to record a song as part of the video rather than uploading something separately.

The company’s Robby Stein acknowledged similarities to TikTok in a conversation with The Verge. It deserved a “ton of credit” for popularizing short video formats, he said. At the same time, Stein stressed that “no two products are exactly alike” and characterized Reels as standing out. It was more of an “entertainment” feature where Snapchat-like Stories are more of a social tool.

See also: The best TikTok alternatives and apps

The timing of the wider release is unusual. It comes right as TikTok is facing a possible ban if Microsoft or another company doesn’t buy its US operations — Reels could be the destination for many TikTok creators if their preferred service goes away. TikTok is establishing a $200 million fund for US creators to help keep them on the platform, but it’s not clear how Instagram will answer this beyond basic promises to help people make money from their work.

This also follows right after a major House antitrust hearing. Representatives already accused Instagram’s parent Facebook of mimicking rivals’ features to stifle competition. They might not immediately see the TikTok-like Reels as an issue, but isn’t likely to help Facebook’s case.

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