In a significant development, Facebook has launched a short video services, called Reels, similar to ByteDance’s TikTok, in more than 50 countries including the United States.
Reels has been embedded with its popular Instagram app.
The product saw an immediate gain in traction with several celebrities adopting it including actress Jessica Alba, who posted a video with her family promoting her Honest Company’s masks; comedian Mindy Kaling also showed off an intentionally underwhelming quarantine “workout” routine.
The development comes at a time when Microsoft is negotiating to acquire the U.S. operations of China’s TikTok, with sources saying ByteDance has agreed to divest parts of TikTok.
TikTok, has already been banned in India and the White House has threatened to ban it as well citing consumer data security risks.
Facebook’s Reels was first tested in Brazil in 2018 and was later launched in France, India and Germany; these were TikTok’s biggest market until the Indian government banned the app last month.
Reels users can record short mobile-friendly vertical videos, to which consumers can add special effects and soundtracks pulled from a huge music library.
Acknowledging similarities with TikTok, Instagram’s vice president of product Vishal Shah, said in a video conference call, “inspiration for products comes from everywhere,” including Facebook’s teams and “the ecosystem more broadly.”
Instagram is yet to monetizing schemes through Reels, although it did recruit young online stars including dancer Merrick Hanna and musician Tiagz to test the product ahead of launch.
Instagram paid the creators for production costs, said Shah.
According to Joe Gagliese, CEO of Viral Nation, Reels is poised to mimic Instagram’s success with Stories.
“They’re a huge monstrous threat (to TikTok),” he said. “The current turmoil couldn’t be playing more into (Instagram’s) court to launch this thing.”