First Snap (NYSE:SNAP) was a vanishing-message social media platform. Then management decided it was a camera company and set its eyes on drones. Now, apparently, it wants to become a video programming channel.
The company is adding 12 original scripted programs to its lineup, some of which it's paying to produce, but all of which are specifically designed for the company's social media app.
There's a lot of risk involved in undertaking a new project that runs off in yet another direction, particularly for a company that could burn through all of its cash by some time next year. All told, this looks like a show that could get cancelled.
Mobile video hasn't found its footing
Snap Originals is a slate of daily scripted shows for teens that will appear in the Discover section of the app. Since they're being made exclusively for Snapchat, they'll all be filmed vertically and will contain two or three six-second, non-skippable ads each.
It initially sounds like a doable project, since even Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Instagram are attempting to include programming on their platforms. But even Facebook Watch and Instagram IGTV are having difficulty getting mobile video to work.
Still, they are hardly considered a threat to Alphabet's YouTube, and Snap doesn't seem to be the one to turn mobile programming into must-see TV. That's not to say some form of programming can't be successful.
Going off on a tangent
Snap has offered some short video content for some time from producers like NBC and ESPN, but it's mostly in the form of unscripted pop culture and relationship shows or news. In a memo to employees that was leaked to Cheddar, CEO Evan Spiegel noted Snap programming has "over 18 Shows reaching monthly audiences of over 10M unique viewers. 12 of which are Original productions." There are currently about 60 original programs featured on Discover.
Among the new programs Snap will initially offer are Dead Girls Detective Agency; a comedy called Co-Ed; a mystery thriller titled Class of Lies; Endless Summer, a docuseries following teens in Laguna Beach; and Bhad Bhabie, featuring Danielle Bregoli, the girl made famous for her Dr. Phil appearance where she uttered the "cash me outside" phrase in response to audience catcalls.
Users will be able to use new Portals to enter into a scene and experience it, then, using a suite of lenses, filters, and other add-ons, share it with friends.
The hope is the programming will make Snapchat a destination for users and win back some who left after the company's recent redesign debacle. The ability to monetize the shows is part of Spiegel's plan to make Snap profitable next year.
It might be a tough sell because, historically users have used the app to interact with their friends, not consume whatever Snap is trying to foist on them. But the company needs this to work to stem the loss of users and assuage advertisers that they can create engagement.
The problem with these shows is they're short, about five minutes long, meaning the scripting has to be tight and the images very vivid to keep viewers engaged. And since they're over so quick, Snap is running new episodes every day with an entire "season" completed in a week or so. Yet with ads running in them, they're bound to be exceptionally advertiser-friendly, which could mean bland.
All told, Snap's Originals seem more like a big-budget disaster for a company that could really use a blockbuster success.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Rich Duprey has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Facebook, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.