Why Snapchat is not a TV killer: content chief Nick Bell talks scripts and mobile as a remote

Snapchat sees itself as the face of mobile-first TV and aims to become a platform where the top shows and movies not only advertise but also release content to engage its youthful userbase.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International TV Festival, Nick Bell, vice president of content of Snap Inc, unveiled the ins of outs of being tasked with developing new shortform formats and enticing broadcast partners to work with them.

Bell, who was snagged from his role of senior vice president of digital products at News Corporation by Snapchat chief executive Evan Spiegel, shared the routes, performance and tribulations in developing content for a new medium.

Snapchat is not looking to replace TV

Bell envisions Snapchat as a content discovery platform. Although the app opens into the camera function to enable intimate storytelling between closeknit friends, with a single swipe a slew of specially-developed for vertical mobile video is available from broadcast partners including - but not limited to - Comedy Central, MTV, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Popular Mechanics, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, National Geographic and CNN.

This drive is not about replacing TV but becoming part of it.

“Longform on this device is not a great experience,” Bell said gesturing towards his smartphone adding: “Mobile is not the TV killer, it is the most complimentary thing to TV that has ever been. There is no better place to watch a 44-minute show or a movie than the glowing box on the wall.”

He touted Snapchat's ability to get people talking about shows on linear TV. Furthermore, on the largely 16-25 userbase, and claimed he has found and is capturing an “audience not engaging with TV at the same rate as they once were.”

­­­­­­­While Snap is actively courting broadcasters and commissioning select content tailored to the audience, he also sees a future for Snapchat beyond being a second-screen companion to TV. “This app becomes the remote control for your media consumption… this is part of our conversations with broadcasters.”

“It is inevitable that the way people consume content will continue to change, people use Snapchat on average 15 times a day, it is becoming a significant part of their lives, it lets them really easily access content. That really becomes very powerful. We are not trying people to make watch longform on mobile.”

Instead the content ought to last between three-to-five minutes.

Factual and scripted content is coming – but it has to be delivered in a specific way

NBC and CNN are now running news shows on the platform that has long been accused of being a throwaway time burner crammed with emoji and lenses and narcissistic narratives driven by selfies. In the month since its launch, CNN’s bespoke production has been viewed by 29 million unique users in the US.

On working with selected partners, unlike, say YouTube that allows anyone to uplaod to the platform, Bell said: “We believe in the value of shared enjoyment and scarcity, not an open platform work really tightly with a handful of partners.

The app facilitates a very specific type of video, largely shot in the authenticity-granting selfie pose. With a charismatic storyteller or creator in the helm, the production can adopt the unique tone that has been cultivated throughout the company's near six years of existence, a language birthed via the tenss of billions of videos and images sent between users.

Underlining this playbook are years of analytics, especially, Bell revealed after print and text content initially outperformed video. “We figure out the format and learn quickly with our partners, not everything is cookie cutter, we’ve seen the basics, we want to be experimental and pull away from the centre, we don’t want everything to look exactly the same,” he said on the type of content the company is looking to run.

A question from the audience probed the feasiblilty of scripted TV on the platform, to which Bell announced the company will dip its feet in for the first time by year’s end. On it’s reluctance to jump into this sector to date, Bell said: “We haven’t as yet paid to commission shows but we haven’t got into scripted yet, it is expensive and we want to make sure we understand be we jump in with both feet.”

This calculation will help ensure a level of quality on Discover. “We’re not taking a spray and pray approach,” he said underlining that Snap is not competing with linear TV and broadcasters, instead that it is “a friend of media” and should factor into their content plans. He provided the anecdote, how Marvel handles its IP across printed, shortform, theatrical, TV and merchandise products, in his view Snapchat is now just another avenue in this pathway.

When asked what scripted content could work on the platform, Bell answered quickly: “Soaps. Coronation Street, Eastenders, we would love to bring these worlds to Snap. Sitcoms like friends, and animations like the Simpsons, in the long run, people fall in love with the characters play out everyday.”

Broadcasters are starting to see it as a way to extend their IP

In an ideal world, Snapchat video is not the channel for bog-standard behind-the-scenes content and marketing material designed to drive eyes to linear TV. Content has to be completely reimagined for mobile said Bell.

“We see mobile as fundamentally a new medium, the aspects to creating a show are so different,” he said adding: “You can’t shoehorn video on and expect it to work

On how broadcasters are coming around to his way of thinking, Bell discussed his talks with NBC in the US round their coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The broadcaster had sealed in the US rights until 2032 but with such a long-term investment was concerned that the TV landscape could theoretically be completely different. What if the audience diminishes upon what is expected currently?

“I think they were concerned if less people are watching, this investment would have produced less and less value. They wanted to learn how to maintain this value and get in front of as many people as possible.” The campaign resulted in over 35m views in the US and helped solidify a relationship with the broadcaster that ultimately necessitated an $500m investment from the broadcaster.

Furthermore, this birthed a user-content generated show to coincide with the US’ The Voice. Running simultaneously to the show, with the same format and judges, fans were urged to Snap their singing footage in, a exercise that saw 20,000 submissions and saw the efforts nominated for an Emmy.

As well as new lines of content, Bell sees Snapchat s a way to prolong the buzz round IP’s during lulls in broadcasting or movie releases. Imagine a series of video shorts between the releases of Fast and the Furious 10 and Fast and the Furious 11, or some content to sate the tastes of a TV fandom like Game of Thrones. He described Snapchat as a bridge during these period, claiming it could keep IP’s alive.

User generated content may be a part of the programming

In addition to generating user generated video through shows like the Voice, making the most of the create and consume aspects of the app, the recently launched Maps features geo-located content uploaded by users.

Snap very quickly found out that this could be used to visually tell the news.

The first time it used user generated content to create its own content was around the Super Bowl, 600,000 Snaps were submitted to tell the wider story around the big game, this was curated into a five minute video and has future applications.

But Maps also emerged as a news tool, Bell stated that the company saw the San Bernardino shooting “unfolded in front of us”. The snaps were some of the first instances of story telling from the tragedy, giving an immediate voice to those on the scene.

On measuring future incidents, Bell said regions in Maps glow like a heatmap based on uploads. If the number of uploads spikes upon average volumes, something is going down.

He concluded that it can be used to “Discover from a hyper-local level to major news events.”

For more on the Edinburgh International Television Festival follow The Drum's coverage here.