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Snapchat’s Vanishing-Video Advantage Over YouTube, Facebook

Snapchat now claims to serve an average of 4 billion daily video views — doubling its video traffic in the past three months.

The number, first reported by IBTimes and confirmed by Snapchat, comprises Live Stories shared by other users and media company accounts in a person’s feed (excluding private messages and Snapchat Discover, its separate section which currently features 15 content partners). Snapchat has started running interstitial ads in Live Stories, as it did in the content MTV pushed last Sunday for the Video Music Awards.

If the 4 billion views is true, that reflects Snapchat’s significant growth as a video platform, putting it in the same league as Facebook. That’s impressive, even with the caveats that Snapchat clips are limited to 10 seconds or fewer and the company apparently counts viewing of even just one second as a view.

And Snapchat has a standout difference on the two digital-video powerhouses, YouTube and Facebook: It’s defiantly ephemeral. Person-to-person messages are deleted immediately after they’re viewed, while public “Stories” posts go poof after 24 hours.

Wait. How is the Snapchat vanishing act an advantage? In some ways, it flies in the face of the long-tail school of thought about the Internet economy: As postulated by Chris Anderson in “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More,” consumers would increasingly gravitate toward niche-oriented products and content in a digital world. Snapchat’s complete lack of an on-demand video catalog, then, would hamstring media companies trying to monetize less-popular content over time, per the long-tail thesis.

But Snapchat’s perishable media delivers two clear benefits. First is that it creates a sense of urgency: It forces users to watch something attentively before it’s gone. The second benefit, perhaps less appreciated, is that Snapchat doesn’t incur the cost of storing and serving vast quantities of old content in gigantic server farms.

In TV terms, Snapchat is more like live television versus YouTube and Facebook’s VOD.

Snapchat believes that immediacy gives it pricing power for advertising. The company has sought between 2 cents per view for a 10-second ad and as much as 10 cents apiece. That translates into CPMs (cost per thousand views) of $20-$100, which at the high end is phenomenally better than other digital media platforms typically get. (Whether Snapchat can actually get buyers for super-high CPMs is another question; some advertisers supposedly have signed on for campaigns to the tune of $10 million.)

Media companies, ogling Snapchat’s 100 million-plus user base that skews toward the 18-24 set, are flocking to it — because of the here-today-gone-tomorrow approach, not in spite of it.

It’s why Stephen Colbert is on the service this week hyping the upcoming debut of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS, and why Major League Baseball, Fusion and Snapchat’s Discover partners including ESPN, CNN, Comedy Central, Food Network, Vice, BuzzFeed and Mashable are producing original content for the platform. Snapchat recently recruited former Fullscreen exec James Veraldi to head strategy and partnerships for Discover.

None of this, however, is to say Snapchat has a fundamentally superior model that’s going to put the likes of YouTube out of business. Snapchat, as it exists today, is totally unsuitable for Netflix-style binge-watching of long-form entertainment.

But Snapchat, with the currency of live TV and a lower cost of infrastructure, has figured out a different way to skin the online-video cat. And unlike its self-destructing messages and media content, Snapchat has built a business that will be around for a long time.

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