Alan Cannistraro is the founder and CEO of Rheo, a video curation startup. Cannistraro has spent his career as a creative and innovative product engineer and designer focused on consuming and controlling media. He founded Rheo as a future-looking viewing experience for the swipe generation to easily find, watch and share the best videos on the web using ambient technology that embodies the future of TV. After more than a decade at Apple creating many of the company’s first iOS media apps, including architecting and engineering iBooks and iTunes U, Cannistraro went on to start and lead Facebook’s Creative Labs app team, where he built the widely lauded AutoPlay Video and developed News Feed features, including the “Year in Review.”
VideoInk: What has been the biggest challenge in trying to crack the code of curation?
Alan Cannistraro: We have a strong opinion about the content people discover in Rheo. The more focused our channels (our “moods”), the better the product feels and the more users enjoy the Rheo experience. Our biggest struggle comes from turning away popular content because we feel it doesn’t match our values. While many other platforms are scaling based on content volume and clicks, we want our content to remain truthful, valuable, and beautiful and our user experience to be enjoyable. Not everything belongs in Rheo.
Why has Rheo strayed away from original content?
There’s enough amazing content already available; it’s just buried and scattered, creating a challenge for consumers to find it. Our job is to find the great content that already exists and make sure the right people see it and are talking about it.
There is still plenty of original content in Rheo, but it comes in the form of Reactions. The video content people are finding on Rheo is sparking engaging conversation that enhance the experience: a hot song in Chill, a polarizing news article in Inform, or a well-crafted knowledge piece in Learn. When it comes to the videos that spark those conversations, we are a platform, not a production studio.
Where do you see the company in 5 years and what is your plan to get there?
My vision for the future of media is ambient. The screens around us (TVs, phones, glasses, whatever) will morph into constant streams of knowledge that consumers will dip into and out of as something catches their attention. Getting information will be as easily accessible as glancing at the time on your microwave, but personalized, contextual, and richer. I envision Rheo as your omnipresent ambient stream; your media assistant. You leave Rheo running, while we contextually present the right information to you at the right time. We built our experience to minimize the steps needed for someone satisfy a human need (Laugh, Learn, Chill, etc). We are thrilled that many of our users are engaging with the platform in this way, and we’re going to double-down on maximizing this ambient experience.
What has been the biggest lesson learned in founding and growing Rheo?
At Apple, I learned that if a product can elegantly satisfy someone’s needs, a user will developing love for your product, loyalty for your brand, and a willingness to pay more. At Facebook, I learned how powerful iteration, personalization, and data can lead to tremendous growth. Facebook is hyper-focused on growing from data insights, and it is the biggest catalyst for their success.In order for Rheo to compete in the media space, we need to be great at both. When it comes to building great product, we are inspired heavily by Apple’s mentality around meticulous product development. And now that we’re out in the market, we are very focused on learning and growing based on insights from our data.
What are the two biggest trends that you’ve seen emerge in the industry over the past year?
- I think we are hitting “peak-ad”, and people are starting to rally against its side-effects. The rise of “fake news”, and the so-called “Adpocalypse”, where media brands are worried about their juxtaposition against ads that don’t fit their values, are both examples of the extreme side-effects of ad-driven media. I think the awareness around these issues is leading to people wanting more trust and integrity in their information sources.
2. The rapid rise of voice control in the home is an early sign that people are ready to move away from their touchscreens as their primary interfaces to information, and an early indicator that information is going ambient.
What has been Rheo’s most successful type of content and why?
The Laugh stream, which is our comedy channel, is proving to be highly engaging for our users. We think this is likely for a couple of few reasons: we have great comedy content, people really want to laugh as the world has become more stressful and laughter is a universal emotion — meaning people using Rheo all around the world can respond to comedic content.
We’ve also begun to develop insights around the way genre preferences adjust based on time of day, day of the week, device, etc. For instance, many people are turning on Chill in the mornings to start their day with background music.
What do you feel is the state of the business?
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the media space right now, as it transitions from traditional to digital. But the driving principles are clear: information will continue to become richer, and more easily accessible.
When I was building the original Apps at Apple, and then Autoplay at Facebook, we had no idea how big either of these technologies would turn out to be. But we believed firmly in those truths about how our relationship with information would evolve.
The video industry is seeing this disruption now, as technology becomes more integrated into our environments and machine learning helps us understand our behaviors. I believe the winners will be the ones who understand this pattern and stay ahead of it.