Snapchat Launches ‘Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ Offshoot

Series represents third leg of social platform's content strategy, dubbed Snapchat Shows

Jimmy Fallon Justin Timberlake
Courtesy of NBC

Every time Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake get together to sing with comedic flair on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” the video is everywhere you look on social media the next day.

But if you’re not on Snapchat, you will miss their latest collaboration.

That’s because a four-minute performance of songs they improvised based on fictional title submissions from Snapchat users is exclusive to that fast-growing social platform as of Thursday morning.

It’s the most recent example of what the Venice-based company is calling Snapchat Shows, a new offering distinct from Live Stories and Discover, the content formats that have powered 10 billion views per day on the app worldwide (as of the last count publicly disclosed back in April).

Simply titled “Fallon,” the short-form series is the latest collaboration between NBCUniversal and Snapchat parent company Snap, which announced a multi-year deal in August that will see multiple TV properties get their own social-centric adaptations of their shows. The pact has already yielded Snapchat-friendly editions of “The Voice” and E! News. A “Saturday Night Live” version is expected as well.

In an interview with Variety, Sean Mills, head of original content at Snapchat, described “Fallon” as emblematic of how Snapchat Shows will be programmed to a young audience that grew up more with mobile than TV as their go-to medium.

“This is the first screen to our audience, so it has to be premium,” he said. “When we talk to partners, we say, ”Assume the audience doesn’t watch television and never will.'”

The very first Snapchat Show, “Good Luck America,” was produced in house back in January with the company’s head of news, former CNN correspondent Peter Hamby, hosting a series of dispatches from the presidential campaign trail. But more recent Snapchat Shows have been created in partnership with outside auspices such as ESPN, which produces a Snapchat Show for “College Gameday” every Sunday: NFL has “NFL Remix” every Monday and E! has “Rundown” every Thursday.

“We’re still in the learning phase but we’re very encouraged by the response to these shows,” said Mills, who joined Snapchat in June 2015 after stints at NowThis and TheOnion. “It’s a huge opportunity considering the tens of billions of video views on Snapchat every day, and we’re at the very early stages.”

That Snapchat and leading U.S. TV networks are collaborating makes sense on both sides. Snapchat needs content to drive an advertising business projected to fetch $1 billion in revenue in 2017, the same year an initial public offering is expected that Bloomberg recently estimated could value the company anywhere between an astounding $25 billion to $35 billion.

But the networks may need Snapchat even more than vice versa because at the same time as the TV audience ages and erodes, the social-media giant is seeing 41% of Americans aged 18-34 access the app every day, in contrast to just 6% doing same at the top 15 TV networks.

While Mills expects the volume of Snapchat Shows to multiply in the coming months, to the point where there is one or two available each day. Different shows will roll out on daily, weekly or monthly installments.

Unlike “The Voice,” which rolled out five episodes in as many days over the summer on Snapchat, “Fallon” is expected to roll out over a much longer period but only on an occasional basis. But viewers can subscribe to Snapchat Shows so that new episodes show up on their app whenever they appear.

But in a significant departure from Snapchat content, which vanishes after 24 hours, Snapchat Shows will experiment with having episodes stick around for longer periods of time. Installments of “Fallon” and “Good Luck America,” for instance, will hang around for 48 hours; even longer archived durations are possible in a bid to get users to check out a Snapchat Show’s previous episodes, according to Mills.

Fallon is no stranger to Snapchat, having already scored a hit on the platform in July with a music video he co-starred in with Ariana Grande. NBC’s late-night host has been aggressive about transforming the Internet into a second window for TV content, particularly on YouTube, but has also dabbled everywhere from Facebook Live to Periscope.

While Snapchat Shows have trafficked to date in variations on news and sports formats, Mills has broader ambitions. “We think there is an appetite from our audience for all genres in scripted and unscripted,” he said. “It’s about finding the right format for the medium.”

To figure out how best to do episodic programming on Snapchat, Mills says the company takes its cues from the audience. On a platform where the consumer and the producer is often one in the same, everything from pacing the narrative to how shots of Snapchat’s trademark vertical screen is framed is informed by what resonates on Live Stories.

It should be noted this isn’t the first time Snapchat has attempted premium video content. In 2015, the company produced short-form episodic videos and aggregated them on a channel branded Snap under the direction of a former Fox TV executive, Marcus Wiley. But Snap was retired later that year, and Wiley exited Snapchat.

The Snapchat-NBCU deal reflects the Venice-based company’s growing appetite to partner for programming instead of producing in-house; the pact also has a component through which NBCU sells Snapchat ad units accompanying the content. Snapchat has a somewhat similar arrangement with Viacom in which channels on the companies’ Discover platform, as well as big events like MTV Video Music Awards.

“We are getting a lot of interest from networks, studios and production companies, and from talent directly,” said Mills, who reports to Nick Bell, VP of content. “I think we’re being pretty open minded about how it’s all going to evolve or work. We think all these can be great partners.”

With the Timberlake video out, Mills isn’t saying what “Fallon” will do next, though he says the host is committed to appearing in future installments. Said Mills, “The next episode of ‘Fallon’ will probably be something completely different, based on what Jimmy wants to do creatively.”

Snapchat Shows are not going to be segregated separately from Live Stories or Discover; some Discover partners will deploy Snapchat Shows.

Whereas Snapchat’s Discover section is styled more like the multi-narrative format in which users can move through the story in the direction they choose, Snapchat Shows is a single narrative that advances automatically. Snapchat’s Live Stories has a similar linear flow, but that content is quite different from a production and development standpoint, being largely crowdsourced and confined to a particular geography.