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Snap, NBCUniversal Form Studio Joint Venture, Tap Duplass Brothers for Original Shows

Snap and NBCUniversal are creating a Hollywood studio dedicated to the future of app-centric entertainment.

Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, is teaming with NBCUniversal to bring scripted programming — like short-form comedies and dramas — to mobile screens. The companies have established a studio joint venture to produce programming exclusively for the social-messaging and media platform. The new JV will work with a handful of creative partners, signing their first deal with indie filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass.

The studio, 50-50 owned by Snap and NBCU, marks a bet by both parties that entertainment for mobile platforms requires a different way of producing content — one they believe traditional Hollywood studios aren’t equipped to do.

“We fundamentally believe that mobile is a new medium,” said Sean Mills, Snap’s head of content. “Because that creative process is so unique, we felt there was a need for a fully dedicated entity focused on that.”

The companies have recruited Lauren Anderson, who has served as NBC Entertainment’s senior VP of current programming, to be the JV’s chief content officer. “Lauren was a great get for us,” said Mills, who has worked with Anderson on the NBC shows created for Snapchat. “She has tremendous experience, and instantly got what we were going for.”

The new studio — which doesn’t have a name yet — will be overseen by Mills and and Maggie Suniewick, president of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises.

Over the past year, Snapchat has worked with NBC as well as other networks and media companies to produce original, short-form shows for its platform. Those have included NBC News’ “Stay Tuned,” E!’s “The Rundown,” and NBC’s offshoot of “The Voice” on Snapchat — which garnered an Emmy nomination.

For NBCU, the high level of engagement of Snapchat’s audience on the shows it has produced convinced the media company to go forward with the plan to form a scripted-programming studio, Suniewick said. For the second quarter, Snapchat had an average of 173 million active daily users.

“This is really about figuring out what resonates on the platform,” Suniewick said.

Another reason NBCU is throwing in with Snap: The app maker, unlike Facebook and other digital platforms, lets the media company sell advertising against the content it distributes on Snapchat.

The new studio will be housed in a separate office in Santa Monica, close to Snap’s headquarters in Venice and NBC Entertainment’s in Burbank, Calif.

The formation of the studio joint venture comes after NBCU invested $500 million in Snap earlier this year as part of Snap’s initial public offering. Suniewick said the amount NBCU is investing in the studio JV is separate from that. The companies declined to disclose the level of investment in the JV, or how many staffers they expect to bring on board under Anderson’s purview.

Meanwhile, Snap is continuing to work with partners on scripted programming. Those include Time Warner, which pacted to develop and produce up to 10 shows per year for Snapchat from across its divisions, including those with scripted drama and comedy formats.

The Duplass brothers, among other projects, are co-creators of the HBO original series “Room 104” and “Togetherness” and inked a four-movie deal with Netflix two years ago.

For Snapchat, Mark Duplass said he and his brother have about a half-dozen concepts for scripted and unscripted shows, including comedy, drama, horror and documentary genres. The deal with NBCU and Snap doesn’t specify a total number of series or amount of content the Duplass brothers will produce. They’re targeting 8-10 minutes per episode, with the first series to debut in 2018.

“We’re definitely thinking about their user base, what would appeal to their core group of users, who are essentially millennials,” Mark Duplass told Variety. “If we make one show and it’s really doing well, we might just stick with that – and do 100 episodes of that show.”

As to what the shows will be about, Snap and NBCU “are wildly trusting,” said Mark. “They let us know in no uncertain terms, ‘You go be you.'” The Snapchat shows will come out of the Duplass Bros. Productions’ Donut shingle, an in-house branded-content agency the duo set up this year.

In general, Mark Duplass said, he has concerns about producing content for digital and mobile platforms: “There’s just too much shit,” he explained. “If we’re going to do something, I hope it’s additive – and it’s something people will come to watch.”

The Snap-NBCU offer was attractive because they gave the Duplass brothers assurances that their work would be featured as part of a select group of creators. “They said, ‘We’re going to work with only a few partners, we’re not going to buy 1,000 shows. We’re going to put you front and center,'” Mark Duplass said.

The interesting challenge in producing Snapchat shows will be shooting in the vertical-frame format, he added: “It’s an exciting process of discovery: How do I use this frame in an interesting way to tell a story?”

Snapchat has focused on creating an artificial-scarcity model when it comes to shows, and the new studio is following suit. Instead of opening up the platform to any and all comers, as YouTube and Facebook do, it has cut deals with a limited set of media partners.

“It’s not about licensing things that are being shopped out there,” said Snap’s Mills.

So far, the roster of companies producing Snapchat shows include NBC, ESPN, the NFL, ABC, BBC, A+E Networks, Discovery Networks, Turner, Scripps Networks, Vertical Networks, Vice, MGM Television, and CBS.

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