Snap’s new “Bitmoji TV” could represent the vanguard of a new wave of personalized entertainment — or maybe just a one-off gimmick.
Either way, Snapchat and Bitmoji users are bound to be delighted and amused with the animated show, which stars their own Bitmoji avatars and those of their friends. The first season will feature 10 episodes that air Saturday mornings on Snapchat, starting Feb. 1.
“Bitmoji TV” is a parody of TV and movie genres. In episode 1, you’re competing for the title of “America’s Best Bitmoji” — a la “American Idol” or “The Voice” — in front of a lineup of judges that includes Randy Jackson (well, it’s his avatar, but his actual voice). The next two are “Mime Cops” and “Spy Squad.” Future episodes will feature guest appearances by comedians including Andy Richter, Jon Lovitz and Riki Lindhome.
“It’s the return of Saturday morning cartoons,” said Ba Blackstock, Bitmoji’s CEO/co-founder and the creator, writer and director of “Bitmoji TV.”
Blackstock said he’s been working on the concept for a personalized TV show for more than a decade. “To make it a fully animated show is the culmination of this insane journey,” he said. “It’s an entirely new form of entertainment that we’ve invented.”
“Bitmoji TV” requires Snapchat users to have a linked Bitmoji account. Every individual’s version of the show will be different; the animation is rendered dynamically, so if you update your Bitmoji with, say, a new wardrobe that will appear in the next episode you watch. The script and storyline remain the same for everyone, though.
To watch Bitmoji TV, Snapchat users can find the show on the Discover content menu or visit this link. Users can subscribe to the show to receive notifications for new episodes, each of which run about four minutes.
Snap acquired Bitstrips, the maker of Bitmoji, in 2016 for a reported $100 million. With the Bitmoji app, users can create their own digital likeness, including customized outfits, and then send their friends different cartoon emoji of themselves. “Bitmoji TV” is “actually a big part of why we joined Snapchat — because this is really the only place this could happen,” said Blackstock.
Snap has reason to believe Bitmoji TV will be a hit. In November 2018, the company launched Bitmoji Stories, a personalized comic strip — also starring you and your friends’ Bitmojis — with new installments three times a week on the Discover page. Since then, more than 130 million Snapchatters have watched Bitmoji Stories.
“People get really excited about this kind of personalized content,” said Blackstock. The debut of “Bitmoji TV” is a “highly experimental prototype – we’re going to see how people respond to it, and how crazy we can be.”
The first season of “Bitmoji TV” will not carry any advertising. Sean Mills, Snap’s head of content, said that’s because “it’s such a new experience” and the company wants to get people excited about watching the show. “I would imagine we’ll find plenty of business opportunities down the line,” he added, suggesting the possibility of ad units that incorporate users’ Bitmoji avatars.
“So much of what we’re trying to do is use new technology and features to change the way we tell stories,” Mills said. “‘Bitmoji TV’ takes that to a new level… I think it starts a new chapter for us.”
Snap may incorporate personalized entertainment into the live-action arena. In December, Snapchat launched Cameos, a feature in which users can insert a selfie of themselves into a scene and send the resulting videos to friends.
“Bitmoji TV” was created in-house by the Toronto-based team behind Bitmoji and Bitmoji Stories, with a team of artists, animators, storyboard specialists and engineers. In order to create “Bitmoji TV,” the animators and engineers had to build a new, proprietary production framework developed specifically for this show. The animation technology also has to consider multiple factors, like the shape and size of each viewer’s unique Bitmoji and fitting them in into each scene.
One thing “Bitmoji TV” doesn’t capture is your voice, so the voice of your character is designed to be the best representation of what you might sound like.
An animated TV show actually served as the original inspiration for the creation of Bitstrips.
Blackstock, before he co-founded Bitstrips in 2007, was creating a surreal fantasy cartoon called “Griddleville,” which he described as a cross between Looney Tunes and sci-fi classic “The Prisoner.” Blackstock and his crew build a comic-generation app to produce “Griddleville”; that led them to the idea of turning it into a product, which led to Bitstrip’s personalized comic strips. “We were looking at, experimentally, how to use cartoon as a language,” he said. “That led to this revolutionary idea of, What if we could share this with everybody?”
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