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In a move that will surprise pretty much no one, given the company’s broader cost-cutting efforts, Meta has confirmed that it will be scaling back its NPE – or ‘New Product Experimentation’ team – which had been focused on tapping into the next big social media trends before they became hits.

Facebook NPE

The NPE team has launched a range of different apps – fourteen in total – over the past two years, as part of Meta’s effort to uncover the next big thing, before anyone else could build another potential rival platform.

The NPE team experimented with everything from music collaboration, to social audio, to meme creation, celebrity video clips, sports viewing experiences and more.

But now, pretty much all of those separate apps have been shut down, with some elements incorporated into other Facebook and Instagram features.

And the next step will see the NPE team narrow its focus even more specifically.  

As reported by Platformer:

The product group, which was created in 2019 to build everything from games to business tools, was recently given a new mission. In a recent memo, Meta Chief Product Officer Chris Cox directed the team to focus its efforts entirely on innovation in short-form video, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Which is especially interesting given that the NPE team already announced that it was changing focus in December last year, with the group looking to build for communities that have ‘historically been overlooked, underestimated, and undervalued by our industry’. 

The concept here seemed to be that rather than focusing on broad-scale shifts, if it could hone in on more specific, niche use cases, that would help Meta uncover key trends that may otherwise go unnoticed.

But evidently, that hasn’t proven valuable, especially as both Facebook and Instagram continue to lose ground to TikTok and the broader short-form video trend.

Indeed, earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that, according to an internal document leaked from Meta, TikTok users are spending over 10x as many hours consuming content in that app as Instagram users currently spend viewing Reels, while Reels engagement, which had been a strong performer for IG, has also dropped by 13.6% in recent months.

Meta’s insistence on pumping more content from people and pages that you don’t follow into your main feed is clearly not working, while another recent leak from Instagram has also suggested that the app is lagging behind TikTok and YouTube ‘on all the dimensions that are most important to creator satisfaction’.

So usage is dropping, and creators aren’t happy. Clearly, something needs to change if Meta wants to have any hope of negating the great TikTok migration.

Maybe, then, the smart minds from NPE will be able to uncover some new short video trends that haven’t been mined as yet, and that will provide new opportunities for Reels to differentiate itself from its rivals.

Which certainly would be novel – actual, industry-leading innovation from Facebook and/or Instagram. I can’t remember the last time either app released a feature that wasn’t replicated from someplace else – and really, that is what the NPE team was supposed to do, uncover key trends and shifts that could help Meta regain its leadership in the space, albeit through separate apps to begin with.

So it could be good to see them refine their focus onto short-form video, and tapping into the next big thing for Reels. But then again, none of the NPE team’s apps ever gained any real, trending traction.

Still, the realignment makes sense, and with Meta’s stock price plummeting, and investors getting increasingly nervous about its metaverse shift, it does need to refine and revise its strategy.

Meta stock price chart

Maybe, that will all turn around again next month, when Meta holds its annual showcase of VR developments. But right now, Meta‘s facing some big challenges, and with that, it’s logically looking to rationalize and capitalize wherever it can.

I’m not sure that it truly can capitalize on the short-form video trend, based on what we’ve seen so far, but maybe this will help.

Meta provided this statement on the move (to Platformer):

“With hundreds of ideas and dozens of products explored over the past few years, including those for video and creative tools, we’re excited to leverage what we’ve learned from these experiments and our engagement with other teams at Meta to help creators tell better stories and connect more deeply with others.”

It’ll be interesting to see what comes next, but you can expect Meta to take at least a few more big swings to try and win over users and creators in the coming months.