TECHNOLOGY

Snapchat Wants to Make Prestige TV for Your Phone

You may not be a Snapchat addict yet. But if the next House of Cards shows up on the app, will you be able to resist?

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BY Sonya Mann - 10 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Snap, Inc. has made deals with large media companies to introduce original TV-like programming to the company's flagship app Snapchat, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The companies involved include NBCUniversal, A+E Networks, the NFL and a handful of other sports properties, and the BBC. Fox and CBS are reportedly also in talks with Snap.

The actual content of the shows may resemble YouTube sketches more than traditional TV, given that the "episodes" will be short and vertically oriented, to fit Snapchat's interface and the type of content that its users expect. Some of the concepts will piggyback off of existing TV brands such as House Hunters or Chopped, according to the Wall Street Journal. Snap and its partners are presumably hoping to capitalize on the prospective audience's familiarity or fandom regarding the shows and their stars.

Snap VP of content Nick Bell told the Wall Street Journal, "We wanted something as premium as television itself," explaining that the company had to guide the programming providers to make content worth watching on its own.

This initiative comes early in Snap's life as a public company. Crunchbase News editor Alex Wilhelm noted on Twitter that Snap's stock price "has been nice and steady since IPO, even in the face of $FB assault," referencing Facebook's determination to add a Snapchat Stories clone to every app it owns. Investors may have priced in Snapchat's slowing user growth, which was reported early in 2017 and later confirmed by the company's S-1.

Back in 2015, tech industry analyst Ben Thompson wrote about Snapchat's TV-like immersive qualities, coveted by advertisers. "Thanks to smartphones we live in a mobile first world, and messaging is the killer app," he said, "much to the benefit of Snapchat, the mobile messaging app with the rather old-fashioned business model ready and willing to take the place of TV."

And while the platform may only want slightly longer videos from publishers at present, it wouldn't be surprising if Snapchat eventually opened up the opportunity to regular users, although the company has not hinted that it will. Tech companies often roll out a new feature with vetted partners before granting it to the masses, as Twitter did with Moments last year. Influencers and brands would likely love the feature, enabling Snapchat to push further into YouTube territory.

Meanwhile, even at this stage, the strategy is worth watching. If Snap can figure out how to create the mobile, ephemeral version of must-watch prestige TV, a la Netflix's many popular ventures, then it could bring new users onto the app, as well as deepening the engagement of old ones. Anecdotally, many social media influencers remain devoted to the app despite Instagram Stories' encroachment.