Snapchat says it’s now a camera company – with its forthcoming camera-glasses and its hundreds of millions of smartphone-bearing teen devotees reinventing the way we take photos.
But the company is also quietly taking steps to replace another iconic consumer device: the television.
The maker of the popular social networking app wants to fill its online service with a slate of original video programming that ranges from breaking news to entertainment and reality shows.
Job listings posted for its parent company, Snap Inc., indicate that the company is looking to hire development managers for its “original shows”, a role that entails reviewing pilots, pitching show ideas, and working with producers. Talent agents have started circulating Snapchat’s name as an active buyer of original programming.
And Snap sees itself becoming the “de facto news outlet” for its millennial audience, according to a source familiar with the company’s plans.
It’s an ambitious move that Snapchat has attempted before in a more limited manner. But with billions of television ad dollars at stake and plans for a $25 billion IPO underway, Snapchat is determined to evolve from a platform where teens trade selfies into the media powerhouse that reinvents must-see TV for the phone-first generation.
TV designed for your phone
Snapchat has been laying the groundwork for a bigger push into TV for awhile.
In 2015, the company had created its own in-house content team run by a former Fox exec and launched a music channel, called “Under the Ghost.” Both efforts were shut down as Snapchat regrouped on its content strategy and laid off a lot of the team behind it.
A year later, Snapchat’s ever-changing content strategy is focused on partnering with networks to develop entertainment programming, while leaving some of the news coverage to Snapchat’s editorial judgment, according to the source with knowledge of the plans.
In August, the company announced it had partnered with NBC to develop Snapchat-specific episodes of some of its hit shows, including “The Voice”, “Saturday Night Live”, and “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.” It was a process that took two years to court the network and develop the show ideas, according to Mashable.
Snap is also hiring development managers both in Los Angeles and New York to “oversee the development and production of scripted and unscripted programming – from pitch to pilot.” The development managers are not only supposed to represent Snapchat when working with external producers and media partners, but also generate their own ideas for new shows and field pitches from the outside producers.
To attract external producers and artists to the app, Snapchat is also now being included in coverage updates from lead talent agencies like CAA and WME, according to Digiday, which first reported Snapchat’s inclusion on the updates in early October. The coverage updates from talent agencies normally list who is looking to buy content, from your traditional TV networks to new companies like YouTube and Netflix.
According to Digiday’s Sahil Patel, who viewed WME’s coverage update, Snapchat is specifically looking for shows in the six to eight minute range – “everything from competition/reality shows like ‘Survivor’ to prank series like ‘Punk’d’ and even animated and sketch comedy shows.” Still, unlike Netflix, which came in with a big budget and a willingness to spend it, Snapchat isn’t spending at the same level or as aggressively.
That could always change though. According to one source, Snapchat is set on creating a “mobile TV” or programs designed superficially for an attention-short, vertical-video-watching audience. The company has already pressured some of its Discover partners, like MTV, to develop Snapchat specific shows. On Sunday, a PBS documentary series, POV, will debut its first of two six-minute documentaries shot for Snapchat.
Next up: news
The other key to Snapchat owning mobile TV is becoming the news outlet of choice for the millennial audience, turning traditional news “on its head” says the source familiar with the plans.
Snapchat has been crafting stories from live events for a few years, but they’ve been largely entertainment focused, like scenes from Coachella or behind-the-scenes at the Super Bowl. That’s changed though as the company has poached more media veterans like CNN’s Peter Hamby, who leads the Good Luck America show on Snapchat.
While Snapchat has plenty of news partners in its Discover section, it’s digging deeper on covering its own breaking news, using its ability to gather multiple viewpoints to its advantage.
Earlier this week, Snapchat broadcasted a news story from the front lines of the attack on ISIS in Mosul, piecing together multiple viewpoints on the ground from an ABC news correspondent to Iraqi citizens to views from the humanitarian camps in its partnership with the United Nations.
In an interview with Mashable’s Kerry Flynn about the Mosul video, Snap’s head of original content Sean Mills said that its push into breaking news isn’t met to upstage its Discover partners but to show a different point of view and complement the traditional media.
“For us, it’s less about giving people information and facts in a traditional third-person way and much more about bringing people into a news event first-person,” Mills told Mashable.
The “Sully” moment
Snap’s biggest advantage may be that it doesn’t own one camera with a TV anchor in front of it, but that it can gather the views from cameras all of the world for an event.
The potential of all those viewpoints, for news and entertainment, is enormous. Nearly 10 million people in the US watched Snapchat’s Live Story on Hurricane Matthew as it hammered the east coast. But Snap is still waiting for the defining moment that makes its advantage over the television screen crystal clear and undeniable.
When Captain Chelsey Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger landed an Airbus airplane on New York’s’ Hudson river in 2009, the photo spread instantaneously on Twitter, and Twitter’s usefulness for news junkies became obvious.
It’s still unclear what Snap’s “Sully” moment will be. Right now, only 17% of Snapchat users get the news from the app, according to the Pew Research Center.
But Snapchat is taking the steps it thinks it needs, like focusing deeper on global news events versus only local stories, to grow into a media destination.
Between the breaking news from the Snap team, the new wave of shows from its Discover partners, and its outreach to Hollywood for more original content, Snapchat is amassing the variety of shows it needs to truly become the mobile TV for millennials.