Snapchat Sets Slate of New Scripted Originals and Docu-Series, Doubling Down on Mobile TV

Updated app will feature dedicated show pages and new 'Shows' section in Discover menu

Snap - Snapchat Originals Fall 2018
Courtesy of Snap

Snap thinks it’s figured out how to make short-form TV shows that sync with the smartphone-as-first-screen generation — and the company is about to unleash more than a dozen new original series for Snapchat this fall, including its first slate of scripted programming.

The new serialized shows span drama, mystery, horror, comedy, and docu-series, and they’re all produced exclusively for Snapchat. Snap also has animation, romance and additional young-adult drama series in the pipeline, building on what to date has largely been a lineup of unscripted news and lifestyle shows. It’s now referring to all its show as Snap Originals.

“We’re building real relationships with viewers,” said Sean Mills, Snap’s head of original content. “To me, that looks a lot more like television than other what other tech platforms, which are tuned around ‘here’s a video that has an abnormal amount of views'” — a not-so-veiled reference to the way YouTube and Instagram have algorithmically promoted video content.

The newest Snap Originals come from producers including Bunim/Murray Productions, the Duplass Brothers, Brad Weston’s Makeready, and Mark Boal (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Hurt Locker”), with writers from shows like “Riverdale” and “Friday Night Lights.” The company is highlighting the new slate Wednesday at the IAB’s NewFronts West event in L.A.

What’s the same with the new serialized shows as with the existing Snapchat Shows: They’re all designed for Snapchat, shot in vertical format with episodes of around 5 minutes each, and include graphics, split screens, and quick cuts optimized for smartphone viewing.

“We’ve thought deeply about how stories are told on mobile,” Mills said. “It’s not like we’re bidding for shows being shopped around town.”

New episodes in each serialized Original Show will be released daily, a decision based on the success Snap’s content team has seen with shows that have become a daily habit for users. “We see [a daily episode release cycle] mapping to Snapchatters’ behavior,” Mills said. Each original serialized show will run 8-12 episodes, and as they conclude Snap will launch new shows.

For Snap, generating more ad dollars through original programming has become part of the company’s business imperative: CEO Evan Spiegel, in an internal memo that leaked out last week, set a target of becoming profitable in 2019. Even so, investors have grown increasingly disillusioned with Snap’s strategy, pushing the stock to new lows. Wall Street analyst Michael Nathanson wrote in research note Tuesday that Snap is “quickly running out of money” and that “Our math suggests a capital raise is needed in the middle to end of 2019.”

The expanded set of Snap Originals are part of the company’s efforts to boost revenue from its youth-skewing user base. Snap recently began running 6-second, unskippable ads in its shows, which will become a standard format for Snap Originals. Until now, Snapchat Shows mostly have included the swipe-able Snap Ads, which are skippable. Snap sells ads through its direct sales team and through auctions; some partners like NBCU also have the ability to sell ad inventory.

Three new Snap Originals will debut on Oct 10: The previously announced docu-drama “Endless Summer” starring teen YouTube creator Summer Mckeen and her boyfriend, Dylan Jordan; drama “Class of Lies,” produced by Makeready, which showcases young women using STEM skills to solve crimes; and college-set drama “Co-Ed,” produced by the Duplass brothers’ DBP Donut, features a cast and crew that is a majority LGBTQ-inclusive.

Snap has focused on building a programming slate from a diverse array of creators and talent, Mills noted. The upcoming original “Dead Girls Detective Agency,” produced by Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts — the joint venture Snap and NBCUniversal formed earlier this year — features a predominantly female cast and crew. And the docuseries “Growing Up Is a Drag,” produced by Bunim/Murray, follows the coming of age of teen drag stars.

With the move into scripted and docu-series formats, Snap is making a key change to the Snapchat app to make it easier for viewers to find and watch the programming. Each Snapchat Show now has a dedicated profile page with all available episodes and seasons to watch at once, and there’s a new Shows shelf on the Discover page. Before, finding a past episode of a Snapchat Show required searching for it in the app.

“We couldn’t do serialized storytelling without this,” said Mills.

Here’s what Snapchat’s new Show Channels and Show Profiles look like:

Snap launched Snapchat Shows two years ago with its first original, news series “Good Luck America,” hosted by ex-CNN correspondent Peter Hamby. Since then, it has added more than 60 original series — in genres covering news, sports, lifestyle, game shows and dating — from dozens of partners, including NBC, CBS, ESPN, Viacom, Discovery, A&E, the NBA, the NFL, Elisabeth Murdoch’s Vertical Networks, Group Nine Media, and Condé Nast Entertainment.

“We were driven by a belief that mobile is a fundamentally different medium — it’s not a place to repurpose content made for another platform,” said Mills.

Snapchat has found the most success with shows with fresh episodes released daily or more frequently. NBC News’ twice-daily news broadcast “Stay Tuned” has doubled its audience over the last year, now reaching 5 million unique viewers per day. ESPN’s “SportsCenter” daily show for Snapchat reaches over 17 million monthly viewers in the U.S.; over half of its 2.5 million daily viewers watch the recap show at least three days per week.

While it’s expanding the programming lineup, Snap will continue to be selective about the programming it invests in with partners. “We don’t have to fill airtime,” Mills said. “We are being deliberate – we love the scarcity because we think the opportunity is to bring large audiences around shared enjoyment.”

To promote the new original shows, Snap is using augmented-reality experiences — interactive features that Snapchatters love to play with. Those include “portal lenses” for select shows including “Endless Summer” and “Class of Lies,” in which users can swipe up from an episode and literally walk into a scene and interact with objects and characters. Snap also developed custom interactive Lenses, including reaction Lenses for some of the shows’ pivotal scenes, encouraging users to share the show experience with their friends.

Snap remains in “learning mode” as it continues to develop scripted originals, Mills said. But the fundamental rules of what makes a great show on Snapchat — informed by the 3 billion Snaps its users send each day — remain the same. For one thing, Snap Originals have to hook viewers right away instead of using a slow-burn reveal. For example, “Class of Lies” writer Tessa Leigh Williams, who was also a writer on “Riverdale,” inverted the narrative structure for the Snapchat Show compared with how she would have scripted a traditional TV show.

“We’re saying, ‘Let’s tell stories differently for this new medium,'” Mills said, adding, “I wouldn’t try to make ‘Game of Thrones’ on Snapchat.”

Here’s a rundown of Snap Originals set to debut this fall:

  • “Endless Summer”: Summer McKeen and Dylan Jordan try to balance love, friends, family, and fame in this intimate snapshot of their lives in Laguna Beach. Produced by Bunim/Murray Productions. (Premieres Oct. 10)
  • “Class of Lies”: Best friends and college roommates Devon and Missy crack cold cases on their successful true-crime podcast. But can they solve the most important case of all when their best friend disappears without a trace? Produced by Makeready. (Premieres Oct. 10)
  • “Co-Ed”: Juggling classes, parties, and down-the-hall crushes, freshman roommates Ginny and Chris try their best to face whatever college throws at them, discovering who they are along the way. Produced by Indigo Development, Entertainment Arts and DBP Donut. (Premieres Oct. 10)
  • “Vivian”: Vivian, the youngest scout at modeling agency Wilhelmina, takes us inside an exclusive world where she has the power to make wannabes’ dreams come true — but can she do that for herself? Produced by NBCU Digital Lab, the Intellectual Property Corp. in association with Wilhelmina. (Premieres Oct. 22)
  • “The Dead Girls Detective Agency”: This darkly comedic supernatural soap follows Charlotte Feldman, a young woman who must work from beyond to figure out how and why she died, in order to avoid an eternity in purgatory. Based on the young-adult novel by Susie Cox. Produced by Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts, Insurrection, and Keshet. (Premieres Oct. 22)
  • “V/H/S”: The next generation of the horror anthology series brings four new frightening experiences to the palm of your hand. Produced by Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts and Studio71. (Premieres Oct. 28)
  • “Bref”: Based on the French format, Bref (loosely translated as “whatever”) is the story of a single man who is trying to live his best possible life with the least possible effort. Working title. Produced by Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts and Paramount TV. (Premiere date TBD)
  • “Bringing Up Bhabie”: Follow the dramas of up-and-coming rap sensation and “cash me outside” viral star Bhad Bhabie, both onstage and off. Produced by Invent TV. (Premiere date TBD)
  • “Growing Up Is a Drag”: Follows the coming-of-age dramas of teen drag queens. Produced by Bunim/Murray Productions and PB&J TV + Docs. (Premiere date TBD)
  • “Stunt Brothers”: Three daredevil brothers obsessed with Hollywood movies recreate them at home with explosive consequences, and explore their archives of stunts from across the last 20 years. Produced by Magilla Entertainment. (Premiere date TBD)
  • “Deep Creek”: Follow a group of friends’ yearly summer trip to Deep Creek, Maryland — but this year, they all have emotional secrets to reveal. Produced by Woodman Park Productions. (Premiere date TBD)
  • “#Vanlife”: Romantic comedy about a young couple that decides to opt out of the rat race and start a new life in a 2004 Dodge Sprinter — only to discover the glamorous life they’ve been following through hashtags is actually just straight-up living in a van. Working title. Produced by Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts and Above Average. (Premiere date TBD)