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Snapchat’s plan to reinvent TV may actually be working

Snap says people like shows, so it’s launching a dozen more.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Berggruen Institute

Snapchat’s experiment to create the future of television with vertical shows for mobile phones isn’t a failure. It may even be a success. Or at least enough of one to keep going.

That’s the general takeaway from Snap’s announcement on Wednesday that the company is launching a new slate of 12 original, “serialized” shows for its Discover section — what it’s calling “Snap Originals.”

Think of these shows like a television series, with scripts and storylines that carry through episode by episode. Unlike TV, though, Snapchat’s new shows are filmed for Snapchat — vertically, for your phone, with episodes lasting four or five minutes.

Snapchat already has shows: Partners like NBC, ESPN and E! have been making short TV-like episodes for Snapchat’s Discover section for a few years. Most of those, though, were unscripted or news-focused. (Snapchat also experimented with a comedy in 2014.) Now Snapchat wants to bring serialized dramas into the mix, and is working with outside production companies to create them.

Why? Because a lot of people are watching the shows Snapchat already has, says Snap’s VP of Original Content Sean Mills — enough that the company sees value in creating even more of them.

“It’s become a daily habit in terms of how people watch [shows],” Mills said. “It’s the loyalty in terms of how people watch shows and come back every day for them that I think looks a lot like the way people watch television and sets us up for some new opportunities.

“I feel like we’ve been the leader in this and we’re now pouring even more gas on it,” he added.

Mills says the amount of time people spend watching shows each month has tripled since January, though Snap declined to share how much time that actually is. That makes it hard to determine just how valuable shows are to the company. Snap shares audience numbers for some of its most popular shows — ESPN’s SportsCenter remake on Snapchat has 17 million unique viewers a month and NBC’s Stay Tuned news show has five million unique viewers per day, Snap says. But those metrics aren’t comparable to traditional television ratings which, again, makes them hard to value.

Still, Snapchat’s decision to add more shows certainly implies that the shows are working. Or at least they’re not flopping. The company will present the new slate of shows to advertisers at the Newfronts West on Wednesday, though Snap and its media partners will produce the shows regardless of whether or not they get advertising commitments for them.

The new serialized slate of shows will include ads, what Snapchat is simply calling “commercials” — six-second, unskippable video spots that will appear a few times during each episode. Snap will split ad revenue with media partners that pay for the show’s production costs. In cases where Snap is paying for production, the company will keep all the ad revenue.

If Snapchat is going to reinvent television but for your phone — something that Facebook and Instagram are also trying to do — then its experiment with shows is an important one. Social apps like Facebook have been trying for years to lure television ad dollars with minimal success.

Maybe something that looks somewhat like traditional TV but also looks like it actually belongs on your phone can work.

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