‘No two products are exactly alike, and ours are not either’
With TikTok’s future uncertain, Instagram is hoping to lure some creators away with the rollout of a direct competitor, Reels, which is launching in more than 50 countries today, including the US, UK, Japan, and Australia.
Similar to TikTok, Reels lets people create short-form videos set to music that can be shared with friends and followers and discovered while browsing the app. It’s the newest opportunity for Instagram to bring in users, increase the amount of time people spend in the app every day, and establish itself as a video entertainment platform.
Reels allows people to record videos up to 15 seconds long and add popular music, as well as an array of filters and effects, over top of them. For creators looking to use Instagram Reels as a new way to build a following, Instagram has revamped its Explore page to create a specific landing spot for Reels at the top of the screen that people can vertically scroll through — similar to TikTok’s “For You Page.”
Both private and public options are available. If you want to become the next Charli D’Amelio, having a public profile will allow your Reels to be widely discovered. For people who want to share with friends, Reels created under private accounts will only post to a person’s Feed and Stories. The feature lives entirely inside of Instagram; it’s not a new app.
The launch of Reels comes as TikTok faces a potential ban in the United States by President Donald Trump or a possible partial acquisition by Microsoft. ByteDance also said Sunday that Facebook was among the troubles in its path, accusing the company of plagiarizing its product with Instagram Reels. Robby Stein, Instagram’s product director, said that while TikTok popularized the short video format, the two products are different.
“I think TikTok deserves a ton of credit for popularizing formats in this space, and it’s just great work,” Stein told The Verge. “But at the end of the day, no two products are exactly alike, and ours are not either.”
That’s a familiar line to people who remember when Instagram first launched Stories in 2016, and the company was accused of creating a Snapchat clone. Stein said that his team received “very similar feedback when we launched Stories.” But Instagram Stories quickly surpassed Snapchat in daily users and has continued to be a massively successful product. That history of success is one of the strongest reasons for Instagram’s team to think it can pull Reels off. TikTok did it first, but maybe Instagram can do it better.
Part of that strategy is focusing on what Stein believes Instagram does best: creating easy-to-use technology for whoever wants to make a video. When opening Instagram to make a Reel, people will be able to slide to a new section of the camera that comes with an assortment of tools. Reels can be recorded either all at once or as a series of clips, or people can upload videos from their photo gallery. The camera’s new features are similar to TikTok’s, with options to mess with the speed, apply special effects, set a timer, and add audio.
Instagram’s product team is “really positioning Instagram camera around a few core formats,” according to Stein. Stories is designed as more of a social feature — quick little snippets people want to share with their followers. Reels is designed with entertainment in mind, an area that Instagram wants to really focus on. Part of that focus includes the redesign of Instagram’s Explore page. More than 50 percent of people use Instagram’s Explore page in a month, Stein said, and now there’ll be a dedicated hub for Reels. This is essentially Reels’ equivalent of the “For You Page” on TikTok, a place for creators to possibly go viral or find new followers.
“We’re going big with entertainment and [making Explore] the permanent place for you to go lean back, relax, and be inspired every day,” Stein said. “It’s our hope that with this format we have a new chapter of entertainment on Instagram.”
Reels’ biggest difference from TikTok is its tie-ins to the overarching Instagram ecosystem, Stein says. People can send Reels to their friends directly on Instagram and they can use Instagram-specific AR filters and tools — everything that people want to do is part of an existing network.
TikTok and Instagram are more than camera products, though. They’re communities for established and burgeoning creators. Stein said the company’s main goal is to “support the entire creator ecosystem,” including giving creators the ability to scale their reach on the platform and adding new tools to make their videos pop. For now, though, Instagram won’t be paying popular creators for their videos, as TikTok has started to offer.
Instagram already allows for influencers and creators to earn revenue through brand deals and sponsored posts, but Instagram doesn’t directly pay people for content. TikTok didn’t either until very recently. The company announced last month that it’s starting a $200 million fund in the US to pay top creators for their videos. TikTok is hoping to expand that fund north of $1 billion. The message is simple: we want you to stay on TikTok and create for TikTok, and we’re going to pay you to do it. Stein had “nothing to share” for now about direct payments to creators, but he stressed that allowing people to monetize is important.
There are a few other features that Reels will not have at launch. People won’t be able to “duet” with each other — a core TikTok feature that lets people interact with, build upon, and remix videos. Instagram also won’t allow people to upload songs directly into the app’s system. Musicians looking to use the app as a place to make a song go viral “can add original audio by just recording and that can live on later,” Stein said, adding that “other people could use it and remix it,” but the actual song can’t be uploaded directly.
Reels isn’t its own world like TikTok is or Vine was. It’s another thing to do on Instagram and another way to find entertainment beyond scrolling through Stories and our Feeds. That lack of focus might seem like a weakness, but Stein sees it differently. “I think one of the really fun parts of this,” he says, “is it’s just another format on Instagram.”