Vertical Network is re-imagining the original Discover channel for its lifestyle property Brother to be more like a TV network or YouTube channel, rather than a magazine.
Vertical Networks is in the process of shifting Brother’s content from being a daily mix of articles and videos into a slate of weekly original episodic shows. The new strategy for Brother’s Discover channel is intended to help Vertical Networks develop shows that it can distribute on and off Snapchat, sell sponsorships against those shows and license or sell its programming to platforms and streaming services as original content.
In the past, Vertical Networks has used Brother’s Discover channel to test out intellectual property before pitching a show to a platform like Snapchat, but the move to regularly distribute original series through the channel formalizes that strategy.
The move is also meant to bolster the channel’s recurring viewership by habituating viewers to expect new episodes of shows to be released on certain days of the week. With more than 20 million subscribers, Brother’s Discover channel performs well for Vertical Networks. In February it received 23 million unique viewers and averaged 3.3 million unique viewers per edition of its Publisher Story, which are published each weekday. But a challenge with the magazine-style approach to Discover is that it can be difficult for publishers to sustain an audience because each day they have to recapture that audience based on the strength of that day’s edition of Brother’s Publisher Story, said Vertical Networks CEO Jesus Chavez.
By the end of March, Vertical Networks plans to air a separate episodic series for each weekday on Brother’s Discover channel, said Bailey Rosser, vp of content strategy at Vertical Networks. The company has already started that process with four series it is airing on Brother’s Discover channel and three more in production. During the initial testing phase, the company is producing four to six episodes of each series it will distribute on the channel to gauge audiences’ interest and see whether viewership grows week over week. Based on each show’s performance, the company will decide whether and how to further develop it.
A former YouTube exec, Rosser described the vision for Brother’s Discover channel as being similar to a channel on YouTube, where a single channel can be home to multiple episodic series. The shift to using Brother’s Discover channel in this way will help the company to build its audience on and off Snapchat and to develop shows for different platforms, said Rosser, who was originally hired as head of audience development at Vertical Networks.
In addition to Snapchat, Vertical Networks plans to upload the shows to Instagram and YouTube. Both of those platforms support vertical video, so the shows produced for Brother’s Discover channel will not need to be edited for those platforms, Rosser said. Since the shows will be exactly the same on each platform, that uniformity will help to give the company a baseline from which to evaluate the performance of its shows across platforms and gain insights that can inform the development of future shows and platform-specific strategies.
Distributing content simultaneously on Snapchat Discover and elsewhere is something that media companies have done since Discover debuted in January 2015. However, usually media companies would take content they had published elsewhere first and repurpose it for Discover. TV networks like Comedy Central cropped clips from their linear shows to include in their Discover channels, and now publishers such as Jukin Media and Daquan redistribute videos from YouTube, Facebook and Instagram on their Discover channels. By producing content with Discover and other platforms equally in mind, Vertical Networks appears to be reversing that well-worn path.
Vertical Networks is not moving away from Snapchat, whose parent company is an investor in Vertical Networks. The series that Vertical Networks is producing for Brother will be “Snap-first or Snap-plus,” the latter meaning they will air on Snapchat and other platforms, said Chavez during an interview in the company’s new headquarters in Santa Monica, California, which sits a half-mile away from Snap’s own headquarters. But he is leaving the door open to the potential that some shows may perform better outside of Snapchat and as a result become YouTube-first or Instagram-only.
The shift with Brother’s Discover channel exemplifies a broader shift at Vertical Networks. “In the shift we’re going through now, the entire organization is focused on building IP. Every original series we’re launching, whether it’s on the Brother channel or a standalone series, it’s all about IP,” Chavez said.
To that end, the 30-person company has reorganized itself. It has merged its social and original content teams into a single group that develops content to live on its own properties like Brother or to be distributed as a standalone series like it Snapchat dating show “Phone Swap.” In addition to developing shows that can be sold or licensed to third-party platforms, Vertical Networks is increasingly looking to sell sponsorships against its programs. Over the past six to seven weeks, the company has staffed up its brand partnerships team by hiring sales leads in Los Angeles and New York as well as heads of brand strategy and ad operations, Chavez said.
Beyond the organizational restructuring, the physical structure of Vertical Networks’ four-week-old office illustrates the company’s shift toward IP development. The company is building two studios within the office to go along with the nearby studio space it is leasing. Those in-office studios are meant to make it easier for the company’s content team to produce shows for its various properties, including but not limited to Brother.
Following Brother’s shift, Vertical Networks is looking to start developing more video series for Mindsy, which specializes in content related to self-discovery and has its own Snapchat Discover channel. “As we’re developing a lot of these new formats and series, that will be the housing unit for some of this content. And the idea will be for that to be multi-platform as well,” Chavez said.