Snapchat needs reasons for teens to come back every day as it struggles to grow amidst competition from Instagram, so it’s capitalizing on its Los Angeles roots. Today Snapchat unveiled its fall slate of a dozen “Original” video shows including its first scripted programs from top producers like Keeping Up With The Kardashians creator Bunim/Murray and Friday Night Lights writer Carter Harris. There’s the supernatural soap opera Dead Girls Detective Agency, college comedy Co-Ed, and a docuseries about the “cash me outside” girl Bringing Up Bhabie.
The Snapchat Originals will appear in Discover, which will soon have a dedicated section for Shows, as well as new permanent Show Profile pages available through Snapchat search where users can sign up for push notifications when each episode is released. Reaction lenses make it easy to post about a Show’s biggest moments. And with new Show Portal lenses, users can stick an augmented reality doorway in their Snaps that they can walk through to explore a scene from the Show and then tap to watch that Show, allowing them to spread virally.
“Time spent watching shows on Snapchat has tripled this year alone” Snap’s VP of Original Content Sean Mills tells me. The stats on Snap’s previous 60 shows from CBS, Viacom, the NFL and others since the project launched two years ago made it clear there was an opportunity to double down, especially as original mobile programming efforts like Facebook Watch and Instagram’s IGTV have stumbled. NBC News’ twice daily show Stay Tuned has doubled viewership in the past year to 5 million unique viewers per day, over half of which watch at least 3 days per week, while SportsCenter’s show reaches 17 million monthly viewers.
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel telegraphed today’s announcement in a leaked memo, noting that the app sees “over 18 Shows reaching monthly audiences of over 10M unique viewers. 12 of which are Original productions” and that “We are also working to identify content that is performing well outside of Snapchat so that we can bring it into Discover.”
Snap Inc was cagey about sharing exactly how the deals to produce the shows work. Some Originals are funded entirely by Snapchat, some fully by production studios, and some are joint efforts. Mills claims “We’re not bidding on shows that are being shopped around town.” They’re always shot vertically for Snapchat and will at least be exclusive to the platform for a window of time. Snap says the shows are created with fast-paced mobile behavior patterns in mind, employing overlaid graphics, split screens, quick cuts, and other modern video elements.
One thing’s for sure: Snap doesn’t want to follow Facebook’s footsteps in funding original content. With Watch and Live, Facebook paid out big upfront sums to secure creators, but when that funding dried up, it was unclear how the unsubsidized shows would survive. “We want to set these things up for longer-term success” says Mills. “We’re not trying to just seed the market with huge investments and then hope it turns into something later. We’re very interested in the viability of this at the onset.”
Originals will be monetized through two or three six-second unskippable Commercial ads in each show sold by Snap, the producers, or again a combination. Snap will try to seduce advertisers by pimping out its new Originals at the NewFronts West conference today in LA. The company will also embark on perhaps its biggest marketing effort to date after focusing on minimalist yellow billboards and airport security tray ads. Snapchat will be running ads on Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube plus some outdoor marketing in LA to clue people into its revamped content lineup. The dedicated Shows carousel should also help the premium content rise above the news publisher clickbait and shoddy user generated content currently stuffed into Discover.
Snap can’t afford to spend too much on Original programming and not have it pay off with ad revenue. The company llost $353 million last quarter, and at this rate may have to raise more money in 2019 or it could run out. An analyst yesterday predicted they expected Snap would lose $1.5 billion in 2019, which dragged the share price to $7 — by far its lowest ever.
As I wrote 18 months ago, Snap’s big opportunity is to fashion itself as the HBO of smartphones and use that draw to get people hooked on its whimsical ephemeral messaging. Though the slate of Originals look higher quality than much of the reality-style and vlogger video content already made for mobile, Mills says Snap isn’t ready to commit the resources to forge its own tent pole Game Of Thrones. “We’re still in the phase of learning about what the audience wants. We’re not setting up for one premium epic show that’s going to bring in all the rest” Mills tells me. “It’s possible that in three months or six months we’ll start making bigger bets after learning what works.” So essentially, Snap is in the Sex In The City, pre-Sopranos stage of turning into the mobile box office, or it’s like a modern Netflix funding lots of experiments but that’s yet to find its House Of Cards.
After losing 3 million daily users and sinking to 188 million total last quarter, Snapchat needs something to reverse the growth trend. While Instagram and Facebook’s other apps have copied Snapchat’s Stories and visual messaging features, the Silicon Valley giant has yet to nail how to do premium mobile video content. If Snapchat can be the place for must-see TV on the go, it could lure in new and churned users looking for a relaxing escape from the competitive world of social media success theater.
Here’s the full list of new Snapchat Originals:
- Endless Summer – Summer McKeen and Dylan Jordan try to balance love, friends, family, and fame in this intimate snapshot of their lives in Laguna Beach. Produced by Bunim/Murray Productions. Docuseries – launching 10/10
- Class of Lies – Best friends and college roommates Devon and Missy crack cold cases on their successful true-crime podcast. But can they solve the most important case of all when their best friend disappears without a trace? Produced by Makeready. Scripted – launching 10/10
- Co-Ed – Juggling classes, parties, and down-the-hall crushes, freshman roommates Ginny and Chris try their best to face whatever college throws at them, discovering who they are along the way. Produced by Indigo Development, Entertainment Arts and DBP Donut. Scripted – launching 10/10
- Vivian – Vivian, the youngest scout at modeling agency Wilhelmina, takes us inside an exclusive world where she has the power to make wannabes’ dreams come true — but can she do that for herself? Produced by NBCU Digital Lab, the Intellectual Property Corp. in association with Wilhelmina. Docuseries – launching 10/22
- The Dead Girls Detective Agency – This darkly comedic supernatural soap follows Charlotte Feldman, a young woman who must work from beyond to figure out how and why she died, in order to avoid an eternity in purgatory. Based on the young-adult novel by Susie Cox. Produced by Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts, Insurrection, and Keshet. Scripted – launching 10/22
- V/H/S – The next generation of the horror anthology series brings four new frightening experiences to the palm of your hand. Produced by Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts and Studio71. Scripted – Launching 10/28
- Bref – Based on the French format, Bref (loosely translated as “whatever”) is the story of a single man who is trying to live his best possible life with the least possible effort. Working title. Produced by Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts and Paramount TV. Scripted – launch date TBD
- Bringing Up Bhabie – Follow the dramas of up-and-coming rap sensation and “cash me outside” viral star Bhad Bhabie, both onstage and off. Produced by Invent TV. Docuseries – launch date TBD
- Growing Up Is a Drag – Follows the coming-of-age dramas of teen drag queens. Produced by Bunim/Murray Productions and PB&J TV + Docs. Docuseries – launch date TBD
- Stunt Brothers – Three daredevil brothers obsessed with Hollywood movies recreate them at home with explosive consequences, and explore their archives of stunts from across the last 20 years. Produced by Magilla Entertainment. Docuseries – launch date TBD
- Deep Creek – Follow a group of friends’ yearly summer trip to Deep Creek, Maryland — but this year, they all have emotional secrets to reveal. Produced by Woodman Park Productions. Scripted – launch date TBD
- #Vanlife – Romantic comedy about a young couple that decides to opt out of the rat race and start a new life in a 2004 Dodge Sprinter — only to discover the glamorous life they’ve been following through hashtags is actually just straight-up living in a van. Working title. Produced by Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts and Above Average. Scripted – launch date TBD