Snapchat is interested in getting more Hollywood content on Discover. While that may go a long way in turning Discover into a destination for TV-like programming, Snapchat’s move also creates headaches for Discover publishers already devoting resources to creating daily, magazine-style content.
For months now, Snapchat has been in talks with TV networks and studios to produce original series for Snapchat Discover, the media section on its app that currently hosts daily channels from publishers like BuzzFeed, Mashable and Refinery29. Led by Nick Bell, Snapchat’s head of content, these talks have so far resulted in a multiyear deal with NBCUniversal, which will produce shows tied to its TV franchises like “The Voice,” “E! News,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Saturday Night Live.”
It’s a departure from how the Discover section has largely functioned to this day, where channel partners program daily magazines filled with dozens of videos, articles and animations. Of the 20 or so current Discover publishers, only six have a background in TV programming. The initial wave of Discover publishers was filled with text-centric publishers like People, Daily Mail and Cosmopolitan.
“They’re interested in taking pitches for shows and not to launch brand-new channels,” said one network executive.
The goal is to turn Snapchat Discover into a destination where the app’s young users can return on a regular basis to catch up on the latest episodes of their favorite shows.
It’s unclear if NBCUniversal is getting paid by Snapchat to produce original content for Discover. The media giant will develop and sell ad packages using Snapchat’s portfolio of ad products as part of the multiyear deal. One network executive who has spoken to Snapchat about doing shows for Discover said Snapchat has not offered any money. “They feel they are way above that, that they don’t need to pay,” said the executive. “It’s more about: ‘We will give you a chance to be on our platform and do a show for us.’”
Discover’s freshness as a platform has made it an exciting possibility for networks and studios that want to reach the app’s young user base. Seventy-seven percent of Discover users were aged 13 to 24 as of the end of June, according to a Snapchat presentation to Discover publishers. And while TV stalwarts like CNN, ESPN, MTV and Comedy Central are already on Discover, there are plenty more that want to get in on the action.
NBCUniversal’s E! News unit, for instance, will debut “The Rundown,” a weekly five-minute entertainment news series, in September.
“One of the things that Discover has done for Snapchat is that it’s given people an expectation that there is content there,” said John Najarian, executive vp and gm of E! News and Digital. “Now it gives a great entry point for shows to stand out. And that’s something we have a leg up on versus what a print or pure online publisher could do.”
To be sure, even if BuzzFeed, Vice, Mashable and Refinery29 don’t have decades of experience in producing TV shows, they have a better understanding than most on what kind of video content works on different social platforms. And producing a half-hour TV show is wildly different than a short-form vertical-video series for Snapchat. It’s a key reason why NBCUniversal recruited BuzzFeed to produce its pop-up Discover channel for the Rio Olympics.
For now, existing Discover publishers are not concerned about Snapchat’s recruitment of Hollywood. “So far, I don’t see the network deals looking like anything more than commercials around our Discover buttons,” said one executive at a Discover publisher. “It’s such a different experience once you’re inside the edition that there should be room for both.”
What could be troublesome is that Discover publishers have created entire teams for Snapchat, pushing out magazine-style content since the section launched in January 2015. For instance, Refinery29 has 11 people on its Snapchat team; Food Network has 10 people. Now that Snapchat wants individual shows on Discover, publishers will have to adapt, which could mean changing the makeup of the teams. (Publishers that have grown accustomed to Facebook’s constant tinkering of its news feed algorithm should be familiar to this territory.)
Here, too, there is a silver lining. “If you have a 10-person team producing 15 to 20 stories a day in a magazine format, it’s a shit-ton of effort,” said a TV network executive at a Discover publisher.
“With a show, it’s a more traditional production — you are assigning the team to work on one show for a month, maybe — it’s a bit more manageable and might alleviate some pressure. But then again, not everyone has an expertise in creating TV shows.”
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