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Everything to know about Instagram Reels, Facebook’s new TikTok rival

August 5, 2020, 1:00 PM UTC

As video app TikTok scrambles to find a buyer for its U.S. business amid threats by President Trump to shut it down, Facebook is rolling out a copycat.

Facebook-owned Instagram on Wednesday debuted its TikTok rival, Reels, in the U.S. and nearly 50 other countries. The service lets users share 15-second clips, which, in some cases, disappear after 24 hours.

The new feature comes as TikTok, which has a huge international following, tries to salvage its U.S. business. Trump threatened to shut down the app in the U.S. if ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, failed to sell it by Sept. 15.

Microsoft is negotiating to buy the service, but it’s unclear if an agreement, estimated to be worth $50 billion, will be reached by the deadline. Other companies may also be trying to acquire parts of TikTok’s business.

Facebook, meanwhile, has stayed relatively quiet about TikTok’s sale. Because of intense scrutiny from antitrust regulators, Facebook is an unlikely buyer.

Instagram said it created its TikTok clone in response to user demand for the feature. In prelude to the official launch, Instagram has been recruiting influencers, many reportedly from TikTok, to join Reels by offering to pay them enough to cover the cost of producing new videos.

Still, Instagram is pitching Reels as slightly different from TikTok. It said creators would be able to tap their existing Instagram followers and that they would be able to use editing tools like one that lets creators align objects in previous clips to create a smooth transition for viewers into the next clip.

Instagram also says its Explore tab, which helps users discover other accounts they may want to follow, lets users more broadly distribute their videos and quickly gain new followers. 

But in general, Reels is very similar to TikTok, offering the same 15-second limit for videos, a music library to incorporate into clips, and the ability to upload original audio.

Over the past two years, the service has been tested in Brazil. And more recently that pilot expanded to France, Germany, and India. Instagram has not said how many people used the feature during those tests.

In creating Reels within Instagram, Facebook is likely trying to tap Instagram’s younger user demographic. TikTok’s rapid rise was partly due to its acceptance with teens, who initially joined to create and share short dance videos.

Although TikTok is still relatively small compared to Facebook, which generated $70.7 billion in revenue last year, TikTok continues to grow rapidly. In the first half of the year, the number of TikTok downloads jumped 132% year-over-year to nearly 49 million, according to mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower, versus just a 9% gain for Instagram, to 23.2 million downloads.