Musical.ly Launches Original Shows From MTV, NBCU, Seventeen Magazine

Musical.ly, the lip-syncing social video app popular among teen girls, is stirring professionally produced short-form shows into its mix of user-generated content.

The fast-growing startup has inked deals with Viacom, NBCUniversal and Hearst Magazines Digital Media for short original series aimed a Musical.ly’s Gen Z audience. The shows — the first of which are coming from MTV, E! and Seventeen — are each designed to be interactive: They include a call-to-action to Musical.ly users (which the company calls “musers”) to post their own personal responses using specific hashtags.

All the shows will be free for Musical.ly users to watch, and no money is changing hands for now under the startup’s partnerships with the three media companies. Initially, the shows won’t include any advertising or other forms of monetization. The company expects to find ways of generating revenue from original premium programming in the future — but out of the gate, the shows from Viacom, NBCU and Hearst Magazines Digital Media mark Musical.ly’s bid to plant a flag in the entertainment biz.

“The addition of premium content on the app makes Musical.ly a one-stop-shop for creating what we believe will be some of the world’s most entertaining short videos,” said Alex Hofmann, Musical.ly’s president of North America. “This launch slate is just the beginning.”

For the media companies, having a slot on Musical.ly for now gives them a chance to expose their brand to the app’s large user base. The app has been downloaded more than 200 million times to date; the company declined to provide stats on number of active users but in December said it had more than 40 million MAUs.

The first crop of weekly shows will be 2-4 minutes per episode, and they’ll be featured at the top of the Musical.ly app’s “trending” section for a 24-hour period. The content will still be available for musers to watch — and respond to — afterward on the media companies’ Musical.ly accounts.

What’s different about Musical.ly’s approach versus the premium content approaches of Facebook or Snapchat is that the shows will encourage musers to chime in with their own creations. Each of the episodes will link to a dedicated user-generated content hashtag page, where musers can find and share reaction videos. Hofmann says on a daily basis, more than 20% of Musical.ly users post their own videos in the app.

“We have seen a paradigm shift where consumers are becoming creators,” Hofmann said. “They don’t want to just watch videos anymore.”

The first two Musical.ly shows, launched Thursday, are a quick-hit version of MTV’s “Nick Cannon’s Wild ‘N Out” comedy series and Seventeen’s “Fashion to DIY For,” telling musers how they can create their own runway looks:

On Saturday, the next two Musical.ly shows are set to debut: MTV’s partially animated comedic series “Greatest Party Story Ever,” which will feature content from select Musical.ly users; and Hearst’s “Seventeen and the City,” highlighting hidden gems in New York City.

NBCUniversal, in the next few weeks, will premiere a show under the E! umbrella called “Cruch,” described as a comedic exploration of social media stars’ celebrity crushes with several musers set to appear in the show. Additionally, NBCU plans to launch additional series from NBC Entertainment and Telemundo.

“We are engaging consumers where they spend time — on their mobile devices,” said Brian Madden, VP of audience at Hearst Magazines Digital Media. “With Musical.ly, we are able to bring a new form of entertainment and a host of new video content to the millions of teens who engage with the app each day.”

While there’s no revenue attached to Musical.ly originals yet, that’s clearly on the minds of the media partners. “We look forward to working with Musical.ly to develop new ad formats and experiences designed for their highly engaged user base,” said Ron Lamprecht, EVP of business development at NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises.

Musical.ly was founded in 2014 by two friends, Alex Zhu and Luyu Yang. The company is based in Shanghai with U.S. offices in San Francisco. Musical.ly has raised about $147 million from investors including GGV Capital, GX Capital, Qiming Venture Partners and Susquehanna International Group.

Separately, Musical.ly continues to see growth on Live.ly, its live-streaming app launched in June 2016. And the company has attracted other content producers to Live.ly that are producing regular live programming, including What’s Trend, Young Hollywood and Sweety High.

Sweety High’s “After The Bell” live daily talk show, launched in February, reached an audience of 300,000 to 400,000 viewers per week, according to the company. “After The Bell,” hosted by Sweety High personalities Cassie DiLaura and Taylor Audette, features musical performances, interviews with celebrities and top musers, and the latest trends in lifestyle, beauty and fashion.

As Sweety High notes, “After The Bell” airs daily weekdays from 3-4 p.m. PT, “when the target audience has left school for the day.”