The short-form video app TikTok has a cool 800 million monthly active users but Instagram is still ahead with its 1 billion+ people that log into the account every month to send stories, post to the feed, and generally lurk online.
Now Instagram is coming for TikTok’s crown with its own short-form video feature, named Reels which launched this week in the US and UK.
Reels has been in the works for over a year, with the platform initially testing the new Instagram feature in Brazil last November. The idea for Reels is a new feature in the app’s Camera which will allow you to record 15-second videos, set them to music, add gifs and text and send them out onto the platform in no time.
“We think Reels is a really big part of the next chapter of Instagram,” says the platform’s product director Tessa Lyons-Laing. “There’s no other platform that brings together entertainment, friends, interests and creators the way that we do and we think Reels is going to be an amazing way for the community to express themselves, connect and be entertained.”
According to Instagram, in the last month, 45 per cent of videos on the feed were 15 seconds or under, so there’s a clear demand for this type of content on the platform. Here’s what you need to know about the new feature.
How to make Reels and where to find them
To make a Reels video, slide over to the camera section of the app and swipe through the options at the bottom, e.g Boomerang and Layout till you get to Reels. There’s a variety of tools you can use to make your video a hit, such as a soundtrack.
Choose a trending or popular song or your own audio, a handy feature allows you to select the right part of the song you want to play during the video — remember you only have 15 seconds to work with.
There’s time controls to slow down or speed up the frame, as well as all those Instagram filters you know and love — the green screen one is particularly cool as it allows you to change your background.
Want to feature different frames in the video? The Align tool means you can line up with the frame of the last shot and then start going with the next section.
During experiments, Reels would live only in Stories but the testers wanted a more permanent place to showcase their creations. As a result, you can post Reels directly to feed, Stories, or send them via direct message. There’s going to be a big focus on Reels clips in Explore too, giving the videos their own space. Just as TikTok has an algorithmic feed, ‘For You’, the Reels section in Instagram Explore will work in a similar way, serving up videos the platform thinks you’ll like depending on the content you engage with, as well as a space for trending and videos chosen by local curators.
Who’s going to be making Reels?
As part of the launch for the new service, Instagram has reportedly been trying to lure popular TikTok creators over to the new feature, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, even offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases.
Instagram says it’s in talks with a lot of big emerging creators, though it won’t specify who at the moment. In particular, the platform says it hopes this will be an opportunity to break the next generation of artists, the next Charli D’Amelio or Loren Gray, if you will.
Already, some of the creators who have been experimenting with Reels include Little Mix, Tom Daley, Chinenye Ezeudu from Sex Education and Charli XCX. One account that Lyons-Liang recommends checking out is Hydroman_333, who creates underwater dancing videos.
To win over the new generation, the next big feature Instagram is working on for Reels will be creator monetisation, so branded content and the like. Lyons-Liang says this is a “priority” for the platform, which should certainly help to sweeten the platform switch.
What about Lasso?
This isn’t the first time that Facebook has experimented with the short-form video space. Earlier this year it shut down an early iteration of this, a separate app named Lasso, that was expected to capitalise on the TikTok trend.
So what’s different about Reels? For a start, Reels is an integrated feature in Instagram, instead of a separate app. Lyons-Liang said the team used Lasso to learn about the types of tools creators wanted and things like trending content, which have all been put to good use in Instagram. “We often place multiple bets across the family of apps so we can meet the needs and wants of the community,” she explains.
It seems Lasso was a bet that didn’t pay off for the family.
It’s definitely an interesting time for Instagram to launch Reels. Though TikTok has been exceptionally popular, it’s been at the centre of a few controversies from being banned in India, to a potential ban in the US, mainly surrounding its parent company ByteDance which is based in China, and the concern that the Chinese government could demand to see TikTok user data. ByteDance denies this would happen, saying it keeps its data centres outside of its home country, but given the concerns around the privacy of the app, it could be a prime opportunity for Instagram to swoop in and pick up those detractors.
When can I download Reels?
As Reels is part of Instagram, you can access it now as long as you live in one of the 50 countries where it is launching, including the US, UK, India, Brazil, France, Germany and Japan.
Once you’ve updated the app to the newest version you can get creating yourself.