In the wake of India’s decision to ban TikTok and dozens of other Chinese apps over privacy concerns, Instagram has expanded its TikTok rival, known as Reels, in the region. The test in India also comes only days after Facebook announced its standalone TikTok clone, Lasso, would be shutting down on July 10.
In addition to India, Instagram Reels is live in Brazil, and as of recently, France and Germany. But an Instagram spokesperson hints the expansion may go even broader, without offering specific details.
Business Insider India was the first to report on Reels’ expansion in India, citing unnamed sources for the discovery. It says the expansion is still a “test.”
“We’re planning to start testing an updated version of Reels in more countries,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch, when asked about the feature’s arrival in India. “Reels,” they added, “is a fun, creative way for people to both express themselves and be entertained.”
Unlike Lasso, which had been its own separate app, Reels has been designed to be a feature within Instagram itself. Reels allows users to create and post short, 15-second videos set to music or other audio, similar to TikTok. Also like TikTok, the feature offers a set of editing tools — like a countdown timer and those that adjust the video’s speed, for example — that aim to make it easier to record creative content. However, Instagram doesn’t have the same sort of two-tabbed, scrollable feed, like TikTok offers, just for watching Reels’ content.
Following the launch of Reels last year in Brazil, Instagram updated the feature based on user feedback. Users said they wanted a space to compile their Reels and watch those made by others. To address these concerns, Instagram moved Reels to a dedicated space on the user Profile page and now features Reels in its Explore section, if they’re published by a public account. That gives Reels the potential to go viral by catching the eye of Instagram users who don’t yet follow the creator’s account. (Before, Reels had been only available to Instagram Stories, which limited their exposure.)
The arrival Reels is timely for a number of reasons. For starters, Facebook in June announced it had entered a global deal with Saregama, one of India’s largest music labels, which would allow it to license music for videos and other social experiences across both Facebook and Instagram. Facebook also has agreements with other Indian labels, including Yash Raj Films, Zee Music Company and T-Series. However, the addition of Saregama may have cleared the path for Reels, given the breadth of its content, which includes over 100,000 tracks like those from Indian music legends, plus Bollywood tunes, devotional music, ghazals, indipop and others.
But mainly, it’s ideal timing for Reels to come to India, given the country’s decision to ban TikTok.
The ban on Chinese apps knocked out TikTok from its largest overseas market, leaving a massive opportunity for Instagram to swoop in and pick up new users for Reels. Before its removal, TikTok had amassed more than 200 million users in India, which is a significant loss for the Beijing-headquartered video app.
But Instagram is not without competition for those users. Reuters recently reported a surge in popularity for other Indian video-sharing apps, like Roposo, Chingari and Mitron, for example. Roposo even saw its user base jump by 22 million in the two days after India banned TikTok, the report noted.
Instagram didn’t indicate when Reels would launch in other key markets, like the U.S.
(Updated 7/6/20, 1:30 PM ET to clarify India is considered a test market for Reels, as opposed to an official launch.)