'They're behaving as a new cable company': Inside Snapchat's content ambitions

When Snapchat went through its first house-cleaning of Discover last October, shutting down underperforming channels like Yahoo’s, it also shut itself down. Snapchat’s very own video destination in its own app was cut like any other publisher, and the team behind it was let go, raising doubts about the future of the company’s content ambitions.

Ever since, publishers and media companies like BuzzFeed, Vox, IGN, Comedy Central and, most recently, MTV have been the face of the Discover section of Snapchat, where they post daily articles and videos — and sell ads against them. Now, Snapchat is starting to rev back up its own content machine and has more homegrown Discover channels in the pipeline.

People close to Snapchat said it has been hiring people to help build new channels and create original content. It’s unclear what the new Snapchat channels will be, but it has had a year to learn from the professional content on Discover from premium partners. During that time, there have been some experimental channels, like one from Brit + Co, which ran a temporary Snapchat edition with its crafty brand of DIY content. The channel with the commerce-related website also could be seen as a precursor to more shopping and retail coming to Snapchat.

Snapchat declined to comment for this story.

“Snapchat is a work in progress. It’s trying a lot of innovative and experimental things,” said Sameer Deen, svp of Univision Digital, a frequent content partner with Snapchat that owns Fusion, which runs a Discover channel. “Last year, they dismantled their original programming team, but they’re constantly tweaking and thinking about new things for their audience. Just because they pulled out of content doesn’t mean they won’t be back in it.”  

Just this week, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel updated the viewership numbers on the app, which now gets 8 billion views a day, comparable to Facebook. It also recently struck a deal with Viacom, a Discover partner, to help sell ad space.

“They’re behaving as a new cable company and finding the right partners they deem worthy of having a channel and growing with the platform,” said Kyle Bunch, managing director of R/GA’s social practice.

Snapchat just teamed up with Tribeca Film Festival, which will host a Discover channel next month. The festival is calling on filmmakers, known or not, to submit movies shot directly on Snapchat, and winners will be rewarded with a screening through the channel. The films can only be 200 seconds long and will use Snapchat’s signature vertical format. Steve Buscemi is helping judge the entries.

“It’s such a natural place to do this this year because it is such an exploding platform and people are very engaged,” said Genna Terranova, festival director.

Not all video need be high art, however. Digital video networks like Fullscreen are highly active on Snapchat, too, creating shows and branded content alongside advertisers. Fullscreen just worked with AT&T to build ads that appeared during the Oscars Live Story that ran on Snapchat, showing celebrities behind the scenes and user-perspective videos from the night.

“By and large, content on Snapchat is still in its infancy,” said Billy Parks, svp of Fullscreen’s strategic content studio. But he could see a future where publishers on Snapchat embrace a Tribeca mentality, with movies and shows premiering there. “I love the idea of publishers launching ‘The Walking Dead,’ ‘The Revenant,’ ‘Breaking Bad,’ and putting time and energy into those types of stories and test them to see if audiences like that.”