Hands-On With Snapchat Discover: Fun Content For Short Attention Spans

Snapchat today launched its media hub Discover. With bite-sized content blips that mix photos, videos, and text, it could become a millenial entertainment destination. And by mixing in pre-rolls and looping video interstitial advertising, Snapchat may have found how to turn storytelling into a serious business.

IMG_7883To access Discover, users swipe left until the see a screen of buttons that open daily “Editions” of content from media partners and Snapchat’s own production team. The partners featured today are CNN, Comedy Central, Cosmopolitan, Daily Mail, ESPN, Food Network, National Geographic, People, Vice, Yahoo News, and Warner Music Group. Each day, the oldcont

Tapping on any Discover button will open that partner’s edition, and possibly show you a pre-roll along the lines of “CNN, brought to you by BMW.” You’ll then see the first chapter of the edition. You can swipe up to explore that piece of content more, swipe down to return to the Discover screen, or swipe left to move to the new chapter in the edition. Each chapter can include photos or looping video clips with overlaid text, scrollable news articles, or videos a few minutes in length that display in a little video player.

For example, CNN’s edition features a chapter on the east coast snow storm with a clip of a newscaster in the blizzard followed by an article full of photos from the storm. Its other chapters include a video on the Ghosts Of Auschwitz, an article on Hilary Clinton’s presidential ambitions, a BMW interstitial, a video on smart drugs, an article on Obama’s trip to India, another BMW interstitial, a quick ‘Did You Know?’ about NASA, and a closing message saying to check back tomorrow.

IMG_7881Snapchat’s smart not to cram ads down people’s throats. Most can be skipped, so you’ll only watch ads you think are actually interesting.

All of Snapchat Discover’s content is designed to fit modern behavior patterns. These aren’t lengthy text articles, they’re quick hits of visual about compelling subjects in the zeitgeist. Discover may have taken inspiration from early third-party media play NowThisNews and its rapid fire, mainstream-friendly recaps of the day’s top issues. If you’re on the go and only have 20 seconds, Discover is designed to still entertain you. And the second you get bored, a swipe in any direction will bring you something fresh.

With plenty of celebrities hoping to tap into Snapchat’s huge audience, its in-house content Snapchannel could become a mobile era Saturday Night Live. It already has “All About That Bass” singer Meghan Trainor starring in a little bedroom skit.

A Yahoo Portal For The Mobile Era

The idea behind Snapchat Discover is, in some ways, the re-invention of the wheel.

Today’s social media functions as a (sometimes overflowed) filtration system that lets your friends pull content from the best producers (publishers, artists, etc.) and throw it into your feeds. Those feeds can be tailored. They can be media-rich like Facebook, constraining like Twitter, simple like Instagram or aspirational like Pinterest. In all cases, the network can sell ads against that content.

But they all rely to some measure on the user’s ability to find content to look at. People will always be sharing links and images and songs and videos and their favorite articles on various social networks, but if you aren’t their friend, if you don’t follow them, you are a loss to that network’s growth and their potential ad revenue.

IMG_7899Snapchat, however, has always used the contacts in your phone’s address book as a way to measure who you should be friends with. Otherwise, you had to go through a more tedious process of knowing someone’s username and typing it in. It’s relatively difficult to follow a publisher or artist to get their content or watch their story.

Snapchat Discover provides a way to do that and gives publishers and brands an awesome front-end product to present to consumers.

Where Facebook and Twitter ask you to rely on your friends and the people you follow for good content, Snapchat goes straight to the content creators themselves. Instead of discovering a cool song from a friend’s auto-posts to Facebook, get it from the artist directly on Snapchat through the Warner Music section. Rather than read a CNN story or watch an ESPN top-ten video looking through your social media feed, get it in an always-updated package directly from those publishers.

Essentially, it’s a portal. A modern day Yahoo.

The product itself is, in a word, beautiful. The ads feel a bit like pop-ups that jump out in the middle of a game or article, but that’s no different than what we experience every day on these news sites. With Snapchat Discover, it’s easier to ignore the ads with the interesting, media-intensive format and UI of the editions themselves.

The only problem, in fact, is that it’s easy to want more. The ability to choose certain publishers from a network, as if they were verified Snapchat users, would be a nice way to customize the feature in a way that feels true to the original Snapchat brand.

Snapchat Discover will give you something to look at, even if you have no friends and hate “social media stars”. Millenials are often sneered at for not caring about long-form news, or even any news. But by reformatting journalism into snackable, skippable chunks, Snapchat might be able to make news fun rather than a chore.