Instagram first launched in 2010 as a place to share photos but expanded into video in 2014. Since then, it has launched Stories as a portal for more ephemeral posts and IGTV as a home for longer videos.
Instagram users have long had the ability to post short videos. In fact, Lyons-Laing say 45 percent of video uploaded to the Instagram feed last month were under 15 seconds. But Reels — which is launching in 50 countries — offers new video creation and editing tools, many of which mimic those offered on TikTok. "We've really seen an amazing explosion of creativity from the Instagram community," Lyons-Laing says of the Reels features, which includes a library of backing tracks, AR effects and the ability to speed up or slow down videos.
TikTok, which has been downloaded more than 2 billion times around the world according to Sensor Tower, is threatening to unseat Facebook-owned Instagram, which has 1 billion global users, as the app of choice for a predominantly young user base. Many TikTokers also post to Instagram, but they consider TikTok their primary home for content creation. While Instagram will let users post videos made elsewhere to Reels, Lyons-Laing said "we hope that we can build creative tools that make people want to use our camera to express themselves."
Instagram began testing Reels in Brazil last November as a feature within Stories but quickly discovered that users didn't want the posts they'd worked hard to create to disappear after 24 hours. So the company revamped the app and released it to a wider pool of users, including those in Germany and France, earlier this year.
Now, Reels is hitting the U.S. as TikTok's fate remains uncertain. After months of federal scrutiny over TikTok's ties to Chinese owner ByteDance, Microsoft said it was pursuing an acquisition of the business. President Donald Trump has said he would support such a deal if the government is paid "a lot of money." He has set a Sept. 15 deadline for a transaction and could move to ban the app if ByteDance has not divested its U.S. operations by that date.
Instagram, via its Reels feature, is one of several apps that stands to gain from a disruption to TikTok's fast rise in the U.S. When asked about TikTok, Lyons-Laing responded, "I can't speculate on what's going to happen in the broader market, but what I can say is that I think consumers having more choice is ultimately good for them."
The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Instagram was offering "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to TikTokers to use Reels. Lyons-Laing confirmed that the company is working with creators to help onboard them onto the new service, adding that "we invest in our creators and their overall experience and in certain cases might help them cover production costs." U.S. talent featured in Instagram's Reels marketing materials include Bretman Rock and dancers Ghetto Trio.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.