Original shows on Snapchat Discover might be the differentiator Snap needs to fend off competition from Instagram, according to advertisers.

Snap has been talking up its “Snapchat Shows Initiative” to ad agencies as the company looks to bring more exclusive programming to its Snapchat Discover media section, according to multiple ad sources. Since last summer, Snap has been recruiting media companies — publishers ranging from NBC to Vice — to make shows spanning a wide variety of genres including reality, sketch comedy and food. Here, Snap is largely functioning like a TV network in the sense that it’s fronting the cash to produce these shows for Snapchat Discover, which it will then sell ads against and keep the revenue.

Advertisers expect Snap to ramp up its sales pitch for original shows heading into the spring. Currently, Snap is selling “presenting by” sponsorships for shows, which are priced in the “low six-figures,” according to one ad source pitched by Snap.

“Snapchat has been promoting its original shows initiative,” said Lisa Cucinotta, director of social strategy and business development for Horizon Media. “We were offered sponsorship opportunities on the first series they were kicking off.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they made more aggressive moves in this area at the upfronts and NewFronts roll around,” added a top digital ad agency exec. “Snapchat shows is a good product, and it’ll get even better once it separates further from [traditional] Discover [content].”

Right now, Snapchat shows appear in the Discover media section, which includes daily magazine-style editions from roughly 40 publishing partners. Discover is considered a “premium” (or: most ad-friendly) environment inside Snapchat — so much so that it commands a $22 CPM, compared to $8 for Snap Ads beyond Discover and $3 for Instagram Stories, as one ad buyer pegged it. (Discover prices can, of course, vary depending on the deal — “they’re selling it at whatever they can sell it for,” said another ad buyer.)

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It’s not difficult to see why advertisers are intrigued by the idea of original TV-like content on Snapchat Discover, especially as Snap gets more TV networks — companies with a long history in creating high-end video shows — to produce original content.

“They need to keep growing, and they have to grow with older audiences and convert them to users,” said a third buyer. “As they do more of this exclusive content, especially with legacy media brands, that’s going to bring more people in because those brands have clout and audience affinity with older demographics.”

There is also interest among advertisers to underwrite more episodic content for Snapchat. Social agency Delmondo said it has several shows actively in development with publishing partners that would be funded by brands and would also include custom Snapchat ads that would run against these shows. The company recently did a video series for The Grammys, which ran on an The Recording Academy’s personal Snapchat account, as a partial proof of concept.

With Snapchat adding more content partners to Discover — recent additions include Harper’s Bazaar and Vulture — there is some concern that the media section was getting stale.

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As the digital agency exec described it, MTV, The Daily Mail and a slew of other Discover partners are all trying to cover the same stuff. “It’s the same problem that Facebook, frankly, has,” said the exec. “Facebook keeps telling everyone to make things look like [BuzzFeed’s] Tasty, so everything looks like Tasty. By working with professionals and making more than the thing that people are most used to tapping on, Snapchat will be better off as a media company.”

Fending off Stories
Snapchat’s prioritization of original shows also comes as it tries to fend off competition from Instagram, which cloned one of Snapchat’s most popular user features with Instagram Stories. Since its August launch, Instagram Stories has grown to 150 million daily users — almost the same as Snapchat’s total audience.

“It’s not that we are paying less attention to Snapchat, but because of usage, we were already paying attention to Instagram and we’re paying even more attention now than six months ago,” said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus. “Instagram Stories has been been a big part of what’s made it stickier.”

Advertisers aren’t likely to abandon Snapchat for Instagram Stories, but the speed at which Instagram is expanding its product and ad offerings — plus 600 million monthly users — keeps the platform top of mind among digital and social ad buyers. Currently, advertisers can buy Instagram Stories ads based on reach objectives for their target audience. Eventually, that’s going to evolve to a point where advertisers can buy based on other objectives and metrics including video views and link clicks.

“It’s going to create a lot more parity with the existing infrastructure that’s available on [the rest of] Instagram and Facebook,” said Cucinotta. “That’s going to lead to a lot more spend. Plus, frankly, there are already so many buyers on the platform.”

With traditional Discover content and original shows, Snap has an advantage where it can offer advertisers an environment filled with better-quality content.

But even here, there is an expectation among media-industry sources that Instagram will eventually introduce a feature that mimics Discover in some form — if one popular and distinctive Snapchat feature was copied, why not another? Plus, with Facebook looking for original shows, it’s not outlandish to believe Instagram won’t follow suit. Facebook, after all, has proven not very squeamish about copying Snapchat.

“Making content and brand messaging artificially scarce so advertisers pay more for people to see it — that’s essentially the business model for all of these platforms,” said Schafer. “I imagine there’s a product like that coming from the Instagram Stories perspective.”

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