In an effort to find new avenues for growth, Snap today announced a slate of self-produced programming. The dozen shows, which will be part of a new program called Snap Originals, include a mix of scripted series and reality shows that will premiere over the next several months on the Snapchat Discover tab. If successful, the shows could promote more conversation within the app while drawing new viewers into Snapchat.
The series premiering today include Endless Summer, a spiritual successor to MTV’s Laguna Beach produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, which helped invent the genre with Real World; Class of Lies, a scripted show about two college classmate who host a true-crime podcast whose friend goes missing; and Co-Ed, another college-set show from the Duplass Brothers’ creative agency.
The shows are all shot vertically, and episodes average five minutes in length, said Sean Mills, head of original content at Snap. New episodes will premiere daily, and you can tell the app to notify you when a fresh installment is available.
In an interview at the company’s offices in Santa Monica, California, Mills said Snap’s original shows are engineered to succeed in the difficult environment of mobile video where viewers are never more than a thumb-tap away from abandoning a show. Snap Originals are designed to hook viewers within seconds and keep them stimulated with flashy visuals, he said.
“I feel like I’m watching the beginning of a fundamentally new medium, where people are just waking up to how you have to take a very different creative approach,” Mills said.
Snap Originals build on efforts that the company has made over the past two years to make Discover a home for compelling, vertically shot video. Its first self-produced show is the news program Good Luck America. Later, it added shows from partners including NBC, CBS, ESPN, Viacom, Discovery, the NBA, and the NFL.
There are currently about 60 original shows on Discover, and while none have been a breakout hit in the mold of Netflix’s House of Cards or Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, several have developed large audiences. Among them are NBC News’ Stay Tuned, a twice-daily broadcast that reaches 5 million people a day, and the Snap version of ESPN’s SportsCenter, which reaches 17 million people a month.
Snap says the amount of time people spend watching shows has almost tripled since the start of the year. In a leaked memo last week, CEO Evan Spiegel said 18 shows on Snapchat reached at least 10 million people monthly.
The growth of Discover has been a bright spot for a company that has been battered this year after a botched redesign, heightened competition from Facebook and Instagram, falling user counts, and a string of executive departures. Analyst Michael Nathanson wrote in a new research report on Tuesday that Snap could lose up to $1.5 billion this year, and might have to raise a new round of funding in 2019.
Snap Originals will generate revenue through unskippable 6-second ads that will air two or three times during an episode. But they could be even more valuable in generating buzz — giving lapsed users a reason to return to the app and drawing in new users via word of mouth.
Snap will promote its programming lineup both inside and outside the app. Inside the app, you’ll find dedicated pages for each show, and a new carousel featuring original programming in the Discover tab. The company has also developed “portal lenses,” which you can use to view augmented reality doors in the Snap camera. Step through one and you’ll find yourself in the world of the show, complete with narrative elements that enhance the experience of watching the show. Snapchat users can create snaps using those lenses and share them to their public stories, promoting the shows to their friends. Snap is also planning an external marketing campaign, Mills said.
Snap’s approach to mobile video differs sharply from its chief rival, Instagram, which launched IGTV to an underwhelming start this summer. Instagram opened up longer video uploads to all of its users in the hopes of sparking a gold rush among creators who are disillusioned with YouTube. In a win for IGTV, magazine publisher Meredith said on Tuesday that it would produce 10 original series for IGTV based on its titles, including Real Simple and Travel + Leisure.
Snap is betting that an approach rooted in partnerships with established television and film companies will be more successful. “What I love about Snap,” Mills said, “is that it has the beating heart of an entertainment company inside it.”
Correction, 4:46 p.m.: Stay Tuned reaches 5 million people per day, not per month.