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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Snapchat Discovery: Boon or Bust for Publishers?

February 12, 2015 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

The never-ending quest to find millennials in their native habitat has led to many strange bedfellows for publishers. Count Snapchat as another one, but this one has massive numbers: more than 200 million monthly active users. The service is best known for temporary content that disappears after it’s been sent, giving everyone license to sext to their heart’s content. But because the service has such a treasure trove of wired, young millennial users, many content players couldn’t resist the chance to be part of the service’s new ”Discover” zone with specially produced photos, text and video. The question is what role content will play in a hyper-personal, temporary space such as Snapchat.

So far, 11 different media partners, including National Geographic, ESPN, Vice and CNN, are on board. Discover works by allowing these different companies to release new content every 24 hours on their own specific channels within the messaging app. With each new update, previous content vanishes. Utilizing Discover is not only an opportunity for content outlets to reach new audiences on the Snapchat platform — particularly the coveted younger demographic who eschew traditional media and are even fleeing Facebook — but it’s also a chance for advertisers to take advantage of the service. Brands can buy advertisements that appear alongside Discover content after every three or four swipes. In effect, Snapchat now breaks through the parameters of what we might consider “social media” — it’s now a messenger, social network and media network in one mobile platform. And publishers are buzzing about potential reach.

”I can’t tell you what the numbers are, but they’re fucking incredible,” one unnamed publishing exec told Digiday, which ran a rundown of what publishers are doing there.

So what are publishers doing? CNN serves up a mix of news photos, video and even interactives. NatGeo has experimented with original quizzes. ESPN has stuck mainly to short-form video clips and stories. Some publishers have sponsors and others are working on it.

Unlike other social networks where publishers have to depend largely on people to share stories into feeds, Snapchat’s content is controlled entirely by publishers in a ”walled garden” or ”portal” type setting.

The question remains: Will users buy in? The beauty of Snapchat originally was that the ephemeral messaging service actually made the platform a preferred destination to keep in contact with friends, as opposed to say Facebook, which has become inundated with ads and links users want to share with their networks. Snapchat, in comparison, was simple because it focused on messaging. But that simplicity is now itself disappearing, and the service has upset a large chunk of the user base.

“This is like Snapchat’s wannabe version of Flipboard and I really don’t see what this offers that makes it beneficial to the user or utilizes Snapchat’s core functionality,” the user Vallsurf commented on The Verge.

More hurtful yet was a student at Butler who told the student newspaper: ”I also don’t like the Discover thing. I will never use it.”

Of course, people were up in ams when Facebook initially launched the News Feed, but that didn’t last long. A bigger problem might be that Snapchat currently makes it impossible to collect data on user behavior to enable targeted ads. Any information that might assist with that never stays on Snapchat’s servers.

The new Discover app, perhaps tellingly, also doesn’t allow users to share content outside of Snapchat. So even though publishers are excited for it and people are anticipating how Discover might change mobile news consumption, there are still a few key concerns. Among them: Will users make a habit of the Discover section? And will Discover lead to more consumption on publishers’ own domains? It’s really a long-running question that extends to any content distributed on social networks. As Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram put it: “The main beneficiary of this deal [between Snapchat and publishers] is the platform itself.”

But then again, if the content is monetized on the network, as it is on Snapchat, does it really matter as long as it’s more revenue in the pockets of publishers? We will keep a close eye on Snapchat… until it disappears.


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