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AT&T Will Use Snapchat to Launch Scripted Superhero Series

AT&T is moving from “@SummerBreak” to Snapchat.

If that sentence makes little sense to you, you must not be from the generation AT&T will seek when it launches “SnapperHero,” a scripted series made just for consumers who are increasingly turning to mobile-based media to gain access to information and entertainment.

“SnapperHero” will center on a superhero premise and will feature influential social-media personae in its cast. To create the program, AT&T has selected people with big followings on social-media outlets like YouTube, Snapchat and Vine, and will have them ask their audiences to make choices that will shape the way “SnapperHero” plays out – like character powers and origins, according to Billy Parks, producer of the series.

“A lot of it will be built on suggestions that are generated from the fans, and this is how we will build the audience for the show,” said Parks, who supervised the production of @SummerBreak, a mobile series backed by AT&T and Chernin Group that played out on Twitter, Tumblr and other social-media outlets. “We start by saying, ‘Hey, we are going to make this, so what are your suggestions?’ And we will show them how it’s being made along the way.” Parks developed the series along with Kendall Ostrow, a UTA agent specializing in digital media.

Launch of the series is a vote of confidence by a major advertiser in Snapchat, a photo-messaging application that allows users to send text, photos and videos to a defined set of contacts. The content typically disappears after a set number of seconds, unless it is public, in which case it can be viewed for 24 hours. On Tuesday, Snapchat unveiled a new feature that could draw more advertisers. Called “Discover,” the feature makes videos and stories available from media outlets including ESPN, Food Network, CNN, Comedy Central and Fusion.

And there’s a twist that is unique to the outlet. Like most videos made available for public consumption on Snapchat, episodes of “SnapperHero” will only be available for 24 hours, and then they will be gone. “There is a little bit more of a sense of urgency to watch these episodes,” said Sam Gorski, one of the directors of the series. Viewers will have no DVR or video-on-demand to turn to once a piece expires.

“It’s like a slice of cake. You eat it, and it’s really delicious, and then it’s gone,” said Shaun McBride, a popular Snapchat artist also known as “Shonduras” who will serve as a member of the cast and as creative director on the show.

The effort is an experiment, executives said. They do not know how large an audience will tune in the series. Even so, said Parks, producers working on @SummerBreak,” which expanded to Snapchat in its second season, were intrigued by the response they saw taking place across the venue.

“What we are most excited about is that connection between creator and fan, and that phenomenon of call and response,” said Liz Nixon, engagement director for AT&T. The telecom company will sponsor various ways of watching “SnapperHero” content, she said, and is likely to weave its products into the programming.

AT&T has spent millions over the years to try to lure consumers to trying new forms of communications. Until last year, AT&T played a large role in sponsoring voting on Fox’s “American Idol,” a sponsorship that is believed to be instrumental in the rise of text-messaging as a mode of communication.

AT&T said “@SummerBreak” over two seasons earned more than 60 million views – 15.3 million views in its first season and 49.08 million views in its second season, and 30 million social engagements and 1.6 billion impressions. Parks and Nixon said the company was still contemplating a third season of the series.

The stars of the new series will include: Anna Akana, a Japanese-American filmmaker known for the short films she creates on her YouTube channel; Freddie Wong, known for his work with the YouTube channel RocketJump; Harley Morenstein, host of the YouTube cooking show “Epic Meal Time”; and Jasmeet Singh, a comedian known as “JusReign” with a large social-media following.

Corridor Digital, a visual effects video team that has more than 3.2 million YouTube subscribers, will help direct the series. Gorski will co-direct with Niko Pueringer. Both are partners in the firm. The series is being produced by Fullscreen Inc. and Astronauts Wanted.

The cast will seek fan input about superhero identities, costumes, even plotlines. Producers expect to roll out 12 episodes over a four-week period starting in early 2015, with most of the content to be found largely on Snapchat. Parks estimated the effort would begin in earnest in January and February and would be concluded by the end of March.

Viewers should not expect to see a weighty series like NBC’s “Heroes” or ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” said Parks. “The tone of the show is fundamentally comedic and light: What happens to these real-life influencers if powers are bestowed upon them,” he said. “We are not trying to be a big-budget action show.” Indeed, one of the cast members will find themselves the beneficiary of a very odd talent, said Pueringer: being made left-handed.

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