Bite-sized, scrollable, easy to digest videos are the key format on TikTok — the leading short-form video app attracting millions of users, brands, and influencers alike.
The candid, short-burst format is perfect for short-attention span audiences like Generation Z and its small box format continues to dominate 2021 as an influencer marketing trend.
While TikTok’s immense growth since its 2018 rebrand of Musical.ly has established its success as the major player in short-form video, several new competitors have entered the space.
Amid growing fears of a U.S. TikTok ban in 2020, Triller made headlines as “TikTok’s replacement” as users and creators flocked to Triller from TikTok. The same year Instagram and Snapchat launched their short-form video features, Reels and Spotlight respectively.
While on the surface it may seem that these apps are one and the same, it’s important to understand the key platform specifics that separate these four competing short-form video platforms.
We analyzed App store and Google Play data for marketers to better understand the four competing social apps based on downloads/installs, platform demographics, and specific features. See our finds presented below in the following infographic:
TikTok, Reels, Triller, Spotlight Platform Comparison: Reach & User Demographics
While short-form video is the central content format of TikTok and Triller, short-form video represents only a fraction of the available content formats on Instagram and Snapchat.
Due to these comparative app differences, estimating reach and user demographics across the four short-term video sites proves to be difficult as standalone user data for Reels and Spotlight has not yet been made available. Therefore, our estimations for total downloads, monthly active users, and total revenue reference the four apps as a whole and are based on App store and Google Play data.
Despite limited data, TikTok is definitively the leading standalone short-form video app — gaining 973 million new installs during 2020.
Fear over a TikTok ban in October 2020 prompted an influx of creators and users to jump ship to Triller causing an unprecedented record spike in Triller’s installs. Notable brands like Pepsi launched Triller marketing campaigns with influencers hoping to be first to reach new audiences on the trending app.
The record installs stirred up controversy in Triller’s reporting metrics, with Triller declaring the app had 250 million installs while third-party data firms insisted the figure was closer to 50 million installs. Triller’s 65 million MAU (monthly active users) figure was also questioned causing the company to threaten lawsuits and insist that the user metrics of MAU and installs were vague measurements with no legal definition.
Triller’s exclusive music licensing partnerships and the potential removal of its largest rival were once its largest competitive advantages. With no pending TikTok ban in sight and Triller’s recent music licensing difficulties, time will tell if Triller’s decline is imminent or if the app will be able to distinguish itself and hold its own against TikTok.
TIKTOK, REELS, TRILLER, & SPOTLIGHT FEATURES COMPARISON
Key app differentiations:
- Leading standalone short-form video app
- Community driven by shareable, remixable content
- Driven by discovery algorithm and hashtag challenges
Since the start of 2019, TikTok has shocked users with its adoption — it consistently ranks in the top five most downloaded apps globally, and is the only top five app not owned by Facebook.
TikTok’s algorithm is one of the key secrets behind TikTok’s fast-growing user base. The algorithm showcases new content from both small and large users, attracting those wanting to gain account exposure and leverage the app’s engaged community. While TikTok has a slightly younger demographic than other social platforms, brands of nearly every vertical have jumped at opportunities to advertise on TikTok.
Key app differentiations:
- Very similar to TikTok, but on Instagram
- Exists within Instagram, not a standalone app
- Users seem to have a strong editing preference in TikTok versus Reels
With every app update Instagram is experimenting and improving the user experience and integration of their short-form video offering, Reels.
Reels is arguably the most similar platform to TikTok out of the four platforms. While Reels’ current placement within Instagram hinders search functions and discovery tools, Reels is nearly identical to TikTok in fundamentals and platform features.
A month after Instagram launched Reels, we surveyed top influencers on their preference between Instagram Reels vs. TikTok.
Over 43% of creators shared they would use Reels as a TikTok repository, and over 30% opted not to incorporate Reels in their content strategy.
In our survey creators like Zach King, Michael Le, and Rob Anderson all pointed to TikTok’s thriving culture and community as its reason for success. Creators also mentioned TikTok’s intuitive video editing as a preference over Reels.
Further, a recent Instagram Reels case study draws evidence that the overchoice of video formats on Instagram is a contributing factor for Reels’ slow adoption rate.
Key app differentiations:
- Simplistic short-form video feature
- Watch community, no real community due to limited audience interaction
- Exclusive creator base
- Exists within Snapchat, not a standalone app
Spotlight’s approach to short-form video differs the greatest from the other four competing platforms. When it comes to core functions and platform features, Spotlight is the simplest platform of the four.
Spotlight users currently cannot see or share audio clips, view engagement metrics, comment on videos, or livestream. All four limitations of Spotlight are key community offerings on TikTok, Reels, and Triller.
Further, users cannot duet, stitch, or recreate videos using a user’s custom audio. While Spotlight appeals to users looking for binge-able scrollable content, Spotlight’s current layout within Snapchat makes it nearly impossible to foster an inclusive creator community given the limited ways users can interact with content.
These limitations push Spotlight towards a watch community with an exclusive creator base — a stark contrast to TikTok’s remix community.
Key app differentiations:
- Exclusive music licensing partnerships
- Music-driven community
- AI-powered editing tools syncing video clips to songs
- Standalone app
Triller’s competitive advantage as a short-form video app has long been it’s positioning as a “music video app” — with sound-driven AI editing tools and exclusive music licensing.
Whereas TikTok has a dedicated tab for direct messaging, Triller has a dedicated music discovery tab for users to easily find top trending music artists and rising stars.
Triller’s community page called “Trills” is a replica of TikTok’s For You page, and Triller’s discover tab is nearly identical to TikTok’s discover tab — showcasing content trends, top hashtags and top videos.
All four short-form video platforms algorithms focus on maximizing content’s ability for viral popularity. When videos receive higher engagement rates, users, influencers, and brands alike want in on the action. While there is no set measurement on what constitutes a view, views on Reels and TikTok are counted whenever a video begins playing on a user’s feed.
Triller takes a different approach in measuring views. A simple visit to a user’s profile can increase the view counts on each of their shown videos anywhere from 1-20 views. While there is no legal definition of a “view”, this difference is vital for marketers to know when choosing a short-form video platform to host their advertising campaign.
SHORT-FORM VIDEO PLATFORM — VERDICT & TAKEAWAY
- TikTok has become a major driver of internet and pop culture trends. The timing of its popularity and the candid nature of its content has established the app as an essential community for Gen Z users.
- Instagram Reels and Snapchat Spotlight are continuously improving their short-form video feature integration. Finding a way to differentiate their content format offerings is essential to thief future short-form video success.
- The success of Triller depends on how the platform will adapt to a changing landscape of short-form video and compete with other social media platforms entering the space.