SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook rolled out its own version of social media rival TikTok embedding a new short-form video service called Reels as a feature within its popular Instagram app.
The product is available in the United States and more than fifty other countries. It immediately received uptake with several celebrities, following a push by Facebook to attract creative talent before launch.
Actress Jessica Alba posted a video with her family promoting her Honest Company’s masks, while comedian Mindy Kaling showed off quarantine workout routine.
Reels’ debut comes days after Microsoft said it was in talks to acquire TikTok’s US operations from ByteDance. The Chinese firm has agreed to divest parts of TikTok under pressure from the White House, which has threatened to ban it and other Chinese-owned apps over data security concerns.
The launch escalates rivalry between Facebook and TikTok with each casting the other as a threat. Both have been eager to attract American teenagers, many of whom have flocked to TikTok in the last two years.
Reels was first tested in Brazil in 2018 and then later in France, Germany and India, which was TikTok’s biggest market until it was banned last month. Facebook also tried out a standalone app called Lasso which did not gain much attention.
Similar to TikTok, Reels users can record short mobile-friendly vertical videos and then add special effects and soundtracks pulled from a music library.
TikTok Chief Executive Kevin Mayer called Reels a “copycat product” that could coast on Instagram’s enormous existing user base after “their other copycat Lasso failed quickly.”
Facebook faced similar charges at a congressional hearing on U.S. tech companies’ alleged abuse of market power last week, with lawmakers suggesting the company has copied rivals like Snapchat for anti-competitive reasons.
Instagram’s vice president of product Vishal Shah acknowledged the similarities in video conference call with reporters and said that inspiration for products comes from everywhere including Facebook’s teams and the “ecosystem more broadly.”