Snapchat is enlisting more publishers to make video shows

Conde Nast

I want my Snap TV?

Snapchat plans to double the amount of Snapchat video shows it releases this year to roughly 80 shows, including what could be its first serialized, scripted shows. In doing so, the company has also widened its sources for shows to include digital and legacy publishers, in addition to existing TV network partners.

Group Nine Media and Condé Nast Entertainment each have at least one show that Snapchat recently ordered, according to sources. Last week, Uproxx announced a new Snapchat show it’s co-producing with entertainment studio STXdigital called “Brawler,” which will premiere on March 16. Other shows have come out in the past year from publishers, including Barstool Sports (a college-culture show called “Fifth Year”), Billboard (a music series called “Artist Pass”) and Vice Media (dating show “Hungry Hearts with Action Bronson”).

A Snapchat source, speaking on background, stressed that in the case of publishers such as Group Nine Media and Condé Nast, both of which have multiple Snapchat Discover channels, they’re not abandoning their magazine-style Discover editions for video shows. Instead, the shows are part of an effort by Snap to offer more professionally produced content on Discover. This comes after a Snapchat redesign that separated user posts from media and celebrity content within the app.

“We’re excited to make shows for Snapchat,” said Ben Lerer, CEO of Group Nine Media. “We continue to see great growth with audience and engagement on our Snapchat Discover channels for NowThis and TheDodo, and we saw great results producing the ‘Shark Week’ show [for Snapchat and Discovery] last year. This is another way for us to lean in and create more programming for the platform.”

Since launching its shows initiative in 2016, Snapchat has gotten most of them from TV networks and other major media companies, while steering digital publishers toward making magazine-style story editions for Discover. That’s not to say Snap has avoided working with publishers on shows, but a majority of the 40 Snapchat shows that have aired so far have come from companies such as NBCUniversal, A+E Networks and ESPN. More than a few have come from sports leagues, too. That net will widen this year.

“We’re in discussions with them on a number of projects that are at various stages in the [development] process,” said Benjamin Blank, CEO of Uproxx. “It really is a matter of whether something we want to do from a creative standpoint matches up with what they’re looking for.”

Snap’s work with publishers on shows comes as the company is looking to curry favor with publishers reeling from the aftermath of Facebook’s news-feed changes.

One area of concern for publishers and other digital media producers is that Snapchat, unlike Facebook Watch, isn’t subsidizing the production of shows. Producers are asked to fund the show, after which Snap will evenly split ad revenue made from the program.

That arrangement has been fine for some TV networks, which can treat the platform as a marketing vehicle to find younger viewers for their existing media properties. And for some networks, it’s been working. E!’s thrice-weekly show “The Rundown” reached 30 million unique viewers in January; NBC News’s twice-daily news show “Stay Tuned” reached 28 million viewers; and ESPN’s “SportsCenter” reached 17.5 million viewers in January.

Viewers for select Snapchat shows. Source: Snap

Other TV networks, such as CNN, which pulled the plug on its daily news show “The Update” in December, weren’t getting enough revenue from Snapchat shows to justify making more episodes.

The ability to make money off of Snapchat shows is an even bigger deal for publishers, many of which don’t have the resources of an NBCUniversal or ESPN to invest in social video shows without some type of guaranteed revenue coming back.

“The fact that they don’t pay for [shows], you end up having to figure out if and when to prioritize working with them,” said one Discover publishing partner that’s pitching shows to Snap.

But the allure of doing a show for Snapchat, which continues to reach a younger demographic than most other social platforms, remains strong. That pull is why publishers such as Group Nine Media and Hearst Magazines Digital Media have recently launched new divisions dedicated to creating video shows for distributed platforms.

The opportunity to get new viewers is a big reason Barstool is doing more episodes of “Fifth Year,” said Erika Nardini, CEO of Barstool Sports. On most platforms, Barstool’s audience is 70-80 percent men; on Snapchat, “Fifth Year” viewers were evenly split between men and women, she said.

“Snapchat brought us new eyeballs and an incredible audience,” Nardini said. “We were on 24 college campuses last fall, and at every single one, we had college kids taking photos of our personalities and posting it to Snapchat. It made it clear that we were on a platform that college kids, a big part of our audience, were already using.”

It also helps that the first season of “Fifth Year,” which consisted of 13 episodes and averaged 3 million viewers per episode, according to Snap, was profitable for Barstool. Snap brought in a series sponsorship with Wendy’s, a new advertiser for the publisher.

Similarly, Uproxx’s “Brawler” has landed an advertising sponsor, with the potential of a few additional sponsors also signing on, Blank said. He wouldn’t name the advertiser, saying Snap is taking the lead on ad sales for the show.

While the downside for producers is that Snap isn’t paying for shows, producers retain ownership over the programs, which could help improve the economics of these deals. For instance, as part of Uproxx’s agreement with its production partner STXdigital, the companies will look to expand “Brawler” beyond Snap, whether that’s licensing the program to other platforms at a later date or using the show format to develop a different version for a different buyer down the road.

“We’re not a production company that has a couple of phones and farms out the production to other companies,” said Blank. “We do the physical production in-house, which ensures future opportunities for us for our properties. It’s the second and third windows where these things get interesting.”

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