Reels comes just over a week after the Indian government banned 59 Chinese apps, including popular short-video and regional social media platforms like TikTok, Helo, Vigo Video, Bigo Live and Likee
New Delhi: At a time when the Indian market sees a void in the short video social media space, Facebook announced Instagram’s Reels feature is going live in India. Reels is Facebook’s version of TikTok and will run within the Instagram app. India is the fourth country to get the feature, after Brazil, France and Germany.
Reels comes just over a week after the Indian government banned 59 Chinese apps, including popular short-video and regional social media platforms like TikTok, Helo, Vigo Video, Bigo Live and Likee. Between them, these platforms command a total user base of about 400 million users.
Facebook, though, says that launching Reels was always part of the plan. According to Vishal Shah, Vice President of Product at Facebook, there is “an appetite" for short form videos on Instagram in India. “Over a third of things posted in India generally are videos and almost half of the videos posted to (Instagram) feeds are 15 seconds of less," he said.
“I think it’s important to think about the context of Instagram in India," said Ajit Mohan, vice president and managing director of Facebook India. “We were listening hard to our consumers, that they had an appetite for the format that Reels represents," he added.
Further, Mohan said launching Reels in India is also based on the fact that India is one of the important markets for Instagram. “I think this would have been a part of our plan, just given the scale of Instagram and the special place it has in India. The vibrant culture here, the demographics and the particular growth of video, all of that created the context for it (Reels), and this was in the works," he said.
Reels though is part of a larger strategy which Facebook has embarked on recently, to acquire Indian users from smaller towns, which is where most of TikTok’s users came from. Many have said the recent investment in Jio is a sign of the same, and Mohan agreed.
“I think all of the excitement that today shows up as an investment in Jio, testing of Reels, the multiple investments we’ve made last year in startups, you should read that as evidence that we’re here for the long term and the excitement comes from the belief that we can be an ally for India in the long term," he said.
Mohan added that the largest communities on Facebook and WhatsApp are in India and Instagram has grown fast too. “I do think that even with today as the starting point, we’re already looking at Instagram’s penetration being fairly deep into the country," he said.
At launch, multiple popular creators will populate Reels with content. This includes popular creators like Ammy Virk, Kusha Kapila, Komal Pandey, Gippy Grewal, RJ Abhinav and Ankush Bahuguna. The company is also initiating a hashtag #FeelitReelit that allows users to follow content being posted to Reels.
Facebook will also be leveraging its tie-ups with music labels including T-Series, Zee Music Company and Yash Raj Films, in order to provide music to Reels and users will be able to search for songs from Instagram’s music library for their Reels. For filters, the company is integrating its Spark AR platform, its augmented reality platform. There are also features to control the camera hands free, add objects from previous clips and speed up or slow down videos.
Shah said that Reels gives users who haven’t built a following on Instagram yet to build their audience. Links to Reels will also be shareable outside Instagram. This could be useful for many TikTok influencers who just joined Instagram and started building their following from scratch.
The main discovery point for Reels is through Instagram’s Explore feed. But Instagram has also optimized the Explore feed for Reels to ensure that creators who produce content can reach new users. “It’s a really different algorithm from a discovery perspective, which is even more unique than what we were doing to Explore. It’s specific to Reels," said Shah.
Instagram has acquired quite a few well known TikTok influencers following the ban. In fact, Reels could be bad news for Indian social media platforms which had acquired millions of downloads due to the ban.
"We’ve benefitted from the openness of the Indian Internet and we value that. At the same time, Instagram today has more than a billion accounts (globally). So, the reality is that even in the face of competition we’ve built a service that sets the tone of culture," said Mohan.
Industry experts believe that while Indian social media platforms have gained downloads due to the ban, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram could be the real beneficiaries, given that they already have mature, scaled and popular platforms.
Reels goes live in India at 7.30pm today. The company recently shut down its other short video platform, Lasso, which means Reels is its only bet on short video right now.
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