One Meta, Two Reels

India’s ban on TikTok spawned a generation of short-video copycats. Facebook Reels is a relatively late entrant. What’s it doing in this busy, busy business?

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You can divide the history of Indian social media into two distinct phases: pre- and post-TikTok. The Chinese short-video platform was the biggest disruption to the way Indians surfed the internet since the advent of Facebook and YouTube, all powered by cheap internet. Look around you—everybody is scrolling an endless aisle of 15-30-second videos all the time. How much time do you spend in a day watching short videos?

It’s unthinkable now to run a mass social media platform without some kind of short video front-and-centre. Which is why Meta launched Facebook Reels in India, two years after it rolled out Instagram Reels after India banned TikTok.

The question is: why?

Does Facebook really need Reels?

Sticker Mule/Unsplash

Once India banned TikTok in June 2020, Big Tech companies and homegrown startups alike scrambled to capture the spot it left behind. ShareChat launched Moj just days later, Instagram announced Reels the following month, and YouTube brought out Shorts in India in September. By the end of the year, several others had cropped up.

The competition is still wide open, although Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts are somewhat in the lead just because they’re already such big platforms. Other pandemic babies, including Chingari and Mitron, are struggling or have simply faded away. And yet, two years later, Meta launched Facebook Reels, a product practically identical to Instagram Reels.

“Reels plays exceed 200 billion per day across Facebook and Instagram,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors in a call last week. “We're seeing good progress on Reels monetisation as well, with the annual revenue run-rate across our apps now exceeding $10 billion, up from $3 billion last fall.” Keep in mind, Meta does not break down Reels’ performance on Instagram and Facebook separately. Instagram Reels is older, but Facebook has a bigger user base worldwide, so it may be difficult to deduce which of the two apps drives more views and revenue from short videos.

Meta constantly shows Instagram Reels on Facebook and vice versa; several Reels on Instagram carry a disclaimer that the video is also cross-posted to Facebook.

But Meta is careful to point out that Reels is only part of Facebook’s video offerings. “Video on Facebook isn’t just about Reels; it also includes long-form video and live content,” Paras Sharma, director of content and community partnerships at Meta India, told The Impression. “It’s true that a lot of creators share their Reels from Instagram to Facebook,” he added. “The ability to watch Instagram Reels on Facebook has helped many Instagram creators reach more people – even for creators who don’t have an active Facebook profile.”

Sharma declined to share how many posts on Facebook Reels are actually Instagram Reels. But he did share examples of creators who’re making it big on Facebook Reels. Some, such as Aaditya Shukla and Ekta Sandhir, have 1-3 million followers each on Instagram but only about half or even a tenth of that follower base on Facebook. There are exceptions, though; YouTubers Ramneek Singh, YouNick Viral Vlogs, and Shuaib Khan have amassed over a million Facebook followers each by posting Reels.

It’s telling that regional language YouTubers have found more early success with Facebook Reels than transplants from Instagram. Facebook and YouTube are India’s biggest social media apps and they’re both the best digital way to reach India’s small town, mass consumer base. Instagram may have brought Reels in first, but YouTube beat Facebook to launch a short video app (Shorts) that this mass consumer is more likely to use. Meta probably knows this and that could explain why it finds value in replicating Reels on Facebook. A return check on YouTube, if you will.

Who’s Making Facebook Reels?

There are more than enough brands and creators making Reels on Instagram and placing vertical video ads in them. Are they doing the same on Facebook Reels?

“We usually just cross-post our Instagram Reels on to our Facebook profile,” Mehak Sagar Shahani, co-founder of wedding services company WedMeGood, told The Impression. The firm has 537,000 followers on Facebook and 1.4 million followers on Instagram. But even after accounting for the difference in following, WedMeGood’s Instagram Reels generally get a lot more views than Facebook Reels.

“The basic thing is that on Facebook as a medium, engagement is low now,” Shahani says. “It’s mostly a platform for older people and for people in tier-3 or smaller cities. So, Facebook Reels do better in comparison to Facebook posts, but it’s nothing compared to the performance of Instagram Reels.”

Because Facebook is no longer the urban, affluent user’s go-to social media platform, brands don’t seem to be too bothered with building a video strategy for Facebook Reels. “We keep reposting all our Instagram content to Facebook and make sure the pages are updated, but these Reels aren’t generating sales leads for us,” Amulya Vanga, a social media consultant and founder of Vanga Media, told The Impression. Her agency caters to architecture and design firms that have clients in big cities.

“None of my clients have come to me asking for a Facebook page, but then the customers they’re targeting are better served on Instagram than on Facebook. They’re looking for high-net-worth individuals who splurge on building and designing their homes and offices.” While handling her clients’ social media, Vanga noticed that Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t boost Reels in the platform’s feed. Instagram’s algorithm prioritises Reels over everything else.

Perhaps Facebook Reels does not hold as much value for brands that cater to urban, affluent Indians. Advertisers generally use Instagram as a means to reach that group of consumers, while Facebook’s wider, deeper reach into India makes it a more suitable platform for reaching small-town, ordinary people. Some creators are tapping into this opportunity.

“The 30+ year old audience is still new to Instagram, they don’t necessarily use it,” Siddik Ganiwala, co-founder of influencer marketing firm PowerHouse Media, told The Impression. “This is the audience that used to watch TikTok and they are mostly Facebook users. That’s why original, regional content is the only thing that works on Facebook Reels. You can monetise even if you have a thousand followers.” Rival platforms such as YouTube and Sharechat’s Moj only allow users to monetise if they have reached a milestone, such as a large number of followers or a significant viewership.

Instagram Reels has been criticised in the past for its glut of “elite”, polished content and followers who watch ordinary creators only to make fun of their videos for being “cringe”. In the last year, the platform has been promoting more small-town creators who make relatable videos in regional languages.

So, does Facebook need Reels? The platform’s daily and monthly active users are growing, but slowly (at 2-5% year-on-year for the last two quarters). Short videos will also be useful in engaging existing users and holding on to younger ones that may not be interested in Instagram. Besides, it’s another kind of ad inventory to offer advertisers.

“Given that Instagram Reels ads perform well, I’m guessing they introduced Facebook Reels to give advertisers an additional option to monetise,” WedMeGood’s Shahani said. “If you’re running vertical video ads, it just makes sense to have the same ad inventory on both Facebook and Instagram.”

Will Facebook Reels reach those who’re happier on YouTube and can’t be bothered with Instagram? All will fall in place if creators are able to grow a credible audience, Facebook’s loyal users get used to browsing videos, and the army of brands comes calling.

Do you use Facebook Reels?

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Broken streak: Snap Inc. is in trouble. Last week, Meta reported a massive 11.8% increase in advertising revenue for the June quarter, despite a 16% decline in ad prices. Alphabet reported a 7% rise in revenue, including a 4.4% increase in YouTube’s ad sales. But Snapchat’s quarterly revenue fell 4% (pdf), led by a massive 13% drop in its main market, North America. Variety argues that Snap’s ad business is just not as resilient as Meta’s and Google’s. Besides, its smaller scale and niche appeal among mostly younger users makes it vulnerable to advertising recessions, such as the one affecting Big Tech companies this past year.

Back home, local social media companies are also looking for ways to make money. Sharechat is testing out something called ‘Branded Shares’, a feature that lets a brand attach its ad to any piece of content shared from the platform via WhatsApp. You may remember that Sharechat first became popular as the home of good morning videos and shayaris that older folks love sharing on family WhatsApp groups. Maybe attaching an ad for soaps or kurtas to a cute short video or post may not be the best way to engage users.

Password police: It’s here. After Netflix, Disney+Hotstar is also cracking down on password sharing in India. Reuters reported the platform will allow paying Indian users to log in from only four devices at a time starting later this year. Besides, its cheaper subscription tiers will be restricted to just two devices at a time. Earlier this month, Netflix wrote to its India subscribers discouraging them from sharing passwords and asking them to verify which logged-in device was part of their password-sharing ‘household’.

Do you want to play a game? Netflix still wants you to. In the last two years, it has either acquired or partnered with gaming studios to launch over 50 games. But the company is taking a hands-off approach with these studios, The Verge reported. The platform has allowed studios like Night School and Ripstone to take the lead on the games they develop, even when they’re based on popular Netflix shows such as The Queen’s Gambit. It’s also pushing on with interactive titles. This month, the platform will release Choose Love, its first ever choose-your-adventure style romantic comedy. Netflix’s biggest hit in this genre by far is the 2018 film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Earlier this year, Wired had argued that Netflix will find it hard to get good at making games. Its most awaited release is Ustwo Games’ Monument Valley, coming 2024.

Remains of the day: We knew it was coming. PVR Inox hasn’t had a good start to the current financial year. Its revenues for the June quarter were over 16% lower than what both multiplex chains earned together this time a year ago (pdf). The company slipped into losses. Admits, occupancy rates, and even sales of food and drinks are down from this time a year ago. This quarter should be much better, though. There’s Barbenheimer: Barbie and Oppenheimer have made nearly ₹130 crore (~$1.58 million) at the box office so far. And Shahrukh Khan’s Jawan will release on September 7.

Trumpet 🎺

Fanta India/Instagram

What’s in a name? Advertising types love inventing new ones for mundane, everyday things. As they should. That’s what writing memorable ad copy is all about. All that matters in the end is that your phrase sticks the landing and clicks with your audience instantly.

In particular, brands and their ad agencies are under pressure to click with a Gen-Z audience. This is why we’re seeing a proliferation of ‘meme marketing’ and ad campaigns that invent ‘cool’ terms with the hope they’ll go viral enough to become an Urban Dictionary entry one day.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen most of the time. This latest campaign for Fanta India is a great example. The central idea is simple: when you’re snacking, grab a Fanta. But “Fnacking”? Even for a snack and a drink, that’s a mouthful. If the word you’re inventing is more cringe than cool, it’s not going to catch on with the Fellow Kids™. Maybe what the team here needed was Mean Girl Regina George to just step in and say “stop trying to make fetch fnacking happen, it’s not going to happen.”

That’s all this week. If you enjoyed reading The Impression, please share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. And please write to me anytime at [email protected] with thoughts, feedback, criticism or anything you’d like to see discussed in this space. I'd love to hear from you.

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