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Television’s next move is to go smaller, not bigger

Snapchat may be the future of exclusive series


Recently, Snapchat has been announcing new deals with cable networks to air exclusive mini-episodes of big TV series.

In Dec. 2016, Snapchat and ABC Disney Television Group announced they were partnering for a couple of Snapchat-exclusive series that would live in Snapchat’s Discovery section — a kind of collaborative news feed put together by Snapchat employees using Snaps from its 150 million daily users. The first show, Watch Party: The Bachelor, is a complementary series to The Bachelor and features 10 original episodes. Each episode runs 3-5 minutes and effectively acts as an after-show to ABC’s popular reality show.

There have been a few other short films and attempts at series from NBC and ESPN, but for the most part, television networks have stayed clear of Snapchat — until now. The BBC and Snapchat announced today that there would be six exclusive episodes of Planet Earth II, the followup to the broadcaster’s popular nature series, available to Snapchat users. The episodes would visit the same geographic locations in the show — islands, mountains, jungles, deserts, grasslands and cities — but would also feature exclusive, never-before-seen footage.

With other shows like NBC’s The Voice and ESPN’s Game Day also using Snapchat to explore producing exclusive content for their programs, the question is why? Well, to start, Snapchat has a registered 158 million daily users. That’s more than Twitter and Instagram. Of those 158 million daily users, most spend more than 25-30 minutes a day not only looking at, but engaging with content. That means people are snapping, replying to snaps and playing around with Discovery.

While Snapchat’s daily user numbers are high, they still don’t compete with Facebook’s 1.23 billion active daily users, the difference is how many more people are engaged with the content their seeing, and most importantly, their age.

“Snapchat doesn’t necessarily have a larger audience of people, but they're going to reach an audience that they know is composed primarily of people who are very excited to consume video content,” Lisa Cucinotta, a social media and business development analyst at Horizon Media, told Polygon.

“In the last few years, Snapchat has become so dominant with its video format, that people are expecting to take in cool content whenever they open it up,” Cucinotta said. “If you're a TV or film studio, what better place to be?”

According to a Snapchat report from last June, its video sector (based on views) had grown by more than 350 percent in the past year with more millennials tuning into the Republican presidential debate on Snapchat than watching it on a network like CNN, MSNBC or Fox. Snapchat has been insinuating for more than a year that it has replaced traditional television for the millennial audience in the same way that YouTube did a decade before and Facebook Live is currently trying to do.

The difference, according to Cucinotta, is the audience television broadcasters want to reach — that very specific 18-34 age group — isn’t flocking to Facebook to watch their friends videos or celebrity announcements on Live; they’re checking Snapchat.

“I think if you look at where users are in terms of size or how many members they have versus Snapchat, Facebook wins,” Cucinotta said. “But Snapchat users are more engaged. The penetration among the millennial audience is so much higher among Snapchat and their time spent using the app. Young people still have Facebook but aren't looking at it the same way.”

The question is why does this all matter? Isn’t Snapchat just another social media platform where people send selfies to each other? You’re not wrong, but Snapchat is one of the biggest emerging platforms for video. As such, television networks have begun hovering around it the same way a vulture circles a dying man, waiting before diving in.

On Thursday, Snapchat reported that it had amassed more than 10 billion video views a day, which surpasses Facebook’s claimed 8 billion video views a day in late 2015. Many of these users are watching Stories, bundled packages that tell a story through different video clips; in other words, a television show. If Facebook is the social network for keeping in touch with family and Twitter is the go-to for catching up on news, Snapchat is the destination app for being entertained.

Television networks are always looking for new ways to reach people. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon distribution is one way to engage with a younger audience, but considering their target market is spending more time on phones than computers (according to recent Nielsen data) television needs to start looking for new platforms to infiltrate.

“Snapchat is a promise of something new and even though the company has rolled out ads, it’s still an untapped market,” Cucinotta said. “No matter what your video content is, it’s always going to reach more people on Snapchat than any other social network. In an era when you don’t want to compete with YouTube series, exclusive, paid Snapchat programs are the obvious next choice.”

More so than The Voice, Game Day and Watch Party: The Bachelor, Planet Earth II will be one of the first major tests to see if television can work on a platform like Snapchat. Sarah Barnett, president of BBC America, said it was an attempt to try and reach an audience that had begun to devour Planet Earth II clips through digital streams. Last year, the BBC posted two different clips from Planet Earth II on Twitter — one featuring a love triangle between three penguins and another that followed an iguana and a snake — that both went viral. It was through Twitter that BBC found a new audience that wanted to engage — and share — scenes from Planet Earth 2.

Reality shows make the most sense right now when it comes to television on Snapchat, but there’s no reason smaller, exclusive spinoff of dramas or comedies couldn’t be shot for a Snapchat audience.

TV doesn’t necessarily need to think bigger, but rather, needs to start thinking smaller.

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