Exclusive: Instagram's Head of Product talks Reels Mideast launch, TikTok comparisons

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Instagram launched its newest feature, Reels, in the Middle East on Tuesday – allowing users to create and edit short-form videos set to music.

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The Facebook-owned social media giant’s new offering was launched in 50 countries in August 2020 and has been rolled out to several other locations since then.

Al Arabiya English spoke to Vishal Shah, Instagram’s Head of Product, for an exclusive Q&A on the inauguration of Reels in the Middle East. As Head of Product, Shah oversees all consumer and monetization products at the company.

Vishal Shah, Instagram's Head of Product. (Supplied)
Vishal Shah, Instagram's Head of Product. (Supplied)

Could you please start off by giving us some insight into what is unique about Instagram users in the Middle East compared to those from other regions, and tell us how you think Reels might be received in this part of the world?

This market, with its culture of creativity, has always been integral to the way we approach connection and creation on Instagram. We have seen a whole new generation of content creators and entrepreneurs use the platform as a springboard to access wider and more varied audiences. For example, we have creators like Azza Zarour who used the platform to launch a drama series that solely lives on IGTV, entrepreneurs like Hindash who used it to launch and amplify his new brand, and up-and-coming musicians like Tasneem Elaidy and Mohammed Al Sahli who share their voice and work with the world.

Reels has been received enthusiastically by the community in countries as diverse as Egypt, India and Germany. We can’t wait to see how the community in the MENA region gets creative with Reels.

Reels launched initially in 50 countries in August 2020. What has changed so that you are now able to launch the product in the Middle East?

Music is a huge part of Reels, so it was crucial that we launch our Music Library in the region ahead of launching Reels. Our Music sticker launched across the region last week, allowing people to enliven their Stories, and now, Reels.

How will the experience of using Reels as a casual consumer differ from the experience of being a professional content creator or influencer?

Reels is very agile and can be adapted to the needs and tastes of the people. For anyone, it is a place where they can create swift, creative content and share with their friends and family, while discovering videos based on their interest via the Explore page.

For the professional creator, it offers a platform to create entertaining videos and catch their first break. It is the ideal space for creators and businesses who want to entertain and inspire their Instagram community by using our suite of video editing tools and jumping on the newest trend.

Essentially, it gives creators and people alike a new place to create in a new format. It arms them with new video editing tools, and gives them access to a bigger, more diverse audience.

Some people have compared the concept of Reels to that of other existing platforms such as TikTok. What does Reels provide that makes it a unique experience for users?

TikTok is doing big things in this format, as have other apps like Snapchat, YouTube and others. No two services are the same, and this responsiveness to consumer demand is competition at work and one of the longtime hallmarks of the tech sector. It increases choice, which is good for people.

Reels has the Instagram touch – it’s simple, social, and gives creators Explore distribution. It gives creators a bigger stage to share their entertaining videos, and make it easier for a global audience to discover them. Reels has editing tools, including access to a huge, diverse library of AR effects that they can use to create videos.

Could you please explain how content on Instagram Reels is curated and delivered to users’ feeds?

When you create a video for Reels, you share it to the Reels tab. The Reels tab is a separate, dedicated space for people to discover short, fun videos from creators or people just like them from around the world. We are trialing a new ranking system that promotes up-and-coming original creators, who utilize the tools we have to hand to create engaging and entertaining content.

The Reels tab is also a place to enjoy scrolling through Reels from the community - you can share Reels with your friends on Instagram, discuss them, get inspired and even recreate one yourself.

We are also curating ‘Featured’ Reels in Explore, which showcases the amazing Reels from public accounts in the community. Reels in Explore are shown based on various signals, such as: your interests (content you’ve liked or commented on); what’s trending and popular and may inspire you to create and locally relevant ‘Featured’ reels that have been curated by an internal team. We’ll continue iterating on the experience to make it better.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

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