As of last count, Snapchat was bringing in 4 billion video views per day. Millions of those come from Snapchat Discover, a platform with 15 well-known media brands creating a deceptively large amount of content. Each channel creates an edition that’s a few minutes long, and a new one is released every 24 hours. That’s more than an hour of memes, videos, and articles if you binge watched and read them all in succession.
As Fast Company’s Resident Youngest Person, I sifted through these many, many snaps every day for a month to determine which Discover channels are worth your time, and which ones you could probably ignore unless you have a lot of spare time on your hands.
Snapchat introduced Discover in January 2015, and its roster of channels has already experienced a fair amount of turnover in nine months. I missed Yahoo and Warner Music, but watched a healthy amount of Snap, the in-house Snapchat channel that was recently killed. As of this writing, the Discover lineup consists of Refinery29, Comedy Central, Cosmopolitan, IGN, Daily Mail, Tastemade, People, ESPN, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, Mashable, CNN, Vice, Food Network, and iHeart Radio.
BuzzFeed, Mashable, Refinery29, Vice
These guys all have far-reaching web operations that cover a lot of subjects, from entertainment to news to tech. They were arguably the most influential media outlets for millennials even before Snapchat, with most of their audience already firmly rooted in the 18-to-34 age bracket.
Even among these leaders, BuzzFeed stands out as the clear frontrunner. The lists and videos are familiar and easily digestible, and they rely on their familiar video personalities, like Ashley Perez and Chris Reinacher, to draw users in. They’re also the best at providing snap-able material, the aspect of Discover channels that encourages users to send content to other users just like they would a selfie. A recent good one depicted a toilet and offered instructions to “snap & draw yr scariest poop here.”
Vice and Refinery29 are also worth watching: Vice offers a diversified look at the news that doesn’t feel too heavy-handed. For example, an article about Americans released from prison will be followed by an essay about living off the grid. Refinery29 just joined Discover on October 12, but it’s already proving its worth with varied content that’s refreshingly different from its cohorts, including 30-day fitness challenges, fashion tips, and personal stories that promote body positivity (all things that millennials are into).
Though Mashable started as a sort of blog about social media and the current site now broadly covers news, entertainment, and digital culture, its Snapchat channel is purely focused on technology. This niche focus has helped it be both interesting and useful, with segments like “App of the Day.” Mashable is also killing it with their sometimes cartoony intro graphics, illustrations, and animations. MashableTech always shows me something cool: A few days ago it was a contraption called Trotify that makes your bike sound like a trotting horse. I need one.
Cosmopolitan, Comedy Central, IGN, Tastemade, iHeartRadio, People, Daily Mail
Cosmopolitan and Comedy Central are arguably the best of these channels. Both have engaging content that is very on-brand, but each also has flaws that keep them out of the top tier. Cosmo’s focus on first-person narratives, like “I Was A Middle School Bully and Didn’t Realize It,” is compelling, and they have a lot of clout with users already as a go-to source for sex and relationship tips. Cosmo, though, seems to have a higher number of ads relative to most of the other platforms.
Comedy Central has a lot of popular shows and comedians on its network, such Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer. Its snap intros—the gif-like teaser before users swipe up to get to more content—work especially well for one-liners and kickers, even if the lineups sometimes feel testosterone heavy. If there were 14 standup vids on a given day, sometimes only three or four were from women, and those were often from the most recognizable stars like Schumer. Bonus point: Comedy Central is experimenting with Snapchat-only shows, like a bit called Swagasaurus that explains the origins and definitions of slang (Meeking, for example, is a riff on the feud between rappers Drake and Meek Mill, meaning to act petty on social media. Now you know).
The rest of the channels blurred together in my mind after a few days of watching. What’s the real difference between People and Daily Mail? Why are they including paparazzi stories about celebs that millennials don’t care about like Whitney Port and Kendra Wilkinson? Why are there so many Kardashians?
As for IGN, the snaps just weren’t compelling enough to turn me from passive video-game enthusiast into a hardcore fan, and the audiences that are interested in that are getting the bulk of that information elsewhere. Tastemade often transcended its niche appeal, because it offered a more global look at food than Food Network, with recipes and facts built around certain countries like a borscht feature for Russia.
CNN, National Geographic, ESPN, Food Network
Are you surprised that four traditional cable-TV channels have struggled to program a consistently compelling Snapchat channel? These four outlets all have mass appeal, and some of their content is inevitably valuable, but they’re not adept at speaking to millennials. Looking at their channels, it’s evident more could be done.
Food Network is a powerful cable channel and an interesting magazine, but on Snapchat, it’s often trying too hard. While BuzzFeed is doing addictive food-hack videos, Food Network‘s videos feel a little too long and a bit too complicated. Only over the course of more than a month of viewing did it start to improve the quality of its vertical video so that it wasn’t as obvious it was “vertical,” only because it had been hastily cut out of the network’s horizontal programming. It could also stand to drop those cheesy puns, like a cringeworthy “penne for your thoughts” cartoon. But it’s not all overcooked mush: Food Network is making good use of stars like Giada de Laurentiis and sometimes includes helpful graphic breakdowns that accompany those complex vids, like a quick and dirty breakdown of a good limoncello.
CNN is the weakest entry on the Discover lineup. To be fair, it’s at an automatic disadvantage, because the content doesn’t work too well on Snapchat. When you open the channel, you might immediately be hammered by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, bombing in Turkey, Benghazi investigations, and police violence. It’s necessary for educating young minds, but that’s not Snapchat’s mission. No one wants to find out about mass shootings on Snapchat. On the other hand, CNN is in a catch-22, because when it offers up features, like Fresh Prince of Bel Air trivia, it feels disingenuous from the most trusted name in news.
The one thing I found myself wanting across all of these channels is links. You don’t realize how much you miss them until they’re gone, which is interesting, because links are basically the whole reason why the Internet is cool. When you’re reading something, you click to in-article links to understand a subject better, which is particularly useful if the subjects have a lot of history and depth (like breaking news, soccer, or icebergs) and complicated instructions (like food and mixed-drink recipes). Good Snapchat content has to be strong enough to stand on its own, to answer all of its readers’ questions, or at least enough of them for it to not be frustrating. Millennials aren’t going to bother checking out your website if you leave a question unanswered on your Discover channel, even if you include a nonclickable URL (looking at you, Vice).
The perfect mix of Discover content is a mythical, captivating blend of videos, gifs, emojis, articles, short cartoons, and a couple of ads thrown in for good measure. Discover is definitely not a platform for longform content. Articles should not be longer than a few hundred words. A five-minute video is really stretching it. Maybe Discover faces a problem of length. Snapchat recently changed the way it shows users how long a snap is, taking away the large number that was the sum of all the seconds in each individual snap. This was definitely a good trick, as users have been conditioned by Snapchat itself not to spend more than a few seconds looking at any one thing. But the short attention span means media outlets have to adapt quickly or get tuned out.
Snapchat Discover deserves a high level of scrutiny, because that’s what will improve the medium. Snapchat channels have been around less than year, so they’re like the early days of television and cable TV that led to experimentation and occasional bits of weirdness until popular formats took hold. The best thing about Discover is that it’s forcing even new media to adapt and rethink their audience. When Snapchat Discover works, it works well, especially as an incubator for what the young kids will actually pay attention to. What today may occasionally feel like parents trying to come up with things their kids would like will eventually give way to media where millennials and gen Z rule.