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How Snapchat Is Bringing Back The 1970s TV Experience

Snapchat Discover insists people want to return to a time when you had limited channels, and limited time to catch shows.

How Snapchat Is Bringing Back The 1970s TV Experience
[Photo: Flickr user Matthew Paul Argall]

Snapchat Discover, launched in January, was a counterintuitive offering from the messaging app. The Discover tab features a selection of channels that are based around brands, including Comedy Central, Food Network, CNN, and BuzzFeed. Unlike Twitter, YouTube, or modern-day television, the content on Snapchat Discover is limited–there are only 15 channels–and completely refreshes each day; there’s no way to go back and watch a video you might have missed.

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Snapchat Discover offers a sharp contrast to the all-you-can-eat-buffet experience of other online content platforms, and the strategy has been hugely successful for the company, amassing 60 million viewers monthly. As Austin Carr writes in a feature in the November 2015 issue of Fast Company, Snapchat Discover is so innovative because it has found a way to bring to smartphones the 1970s television experience of few channels, rich content, and limited time to watch. The 24-hour availability of the videos is key, Carr writes. From the feature:

That one-day life span creates an urgency that’s unprecedented in today’s distraction-filled world. “If your email inbox was going to disappear in 24 hours,” says Danielle Mullin, VP of marketing for ABC Family (its hit show Pretty Little Liars boasts 1.4 million followers on Snapchat), “you would feel the need to actually read every single email. That’s the genius of Snapchat.”

According to Snapchat, the top Discover channels attract more viewers than most cable channels. But those millions of viewers are not just stopping by once or twice. Nick Bell, head of content at Snapchat, claims that many users return to a Discover channel throughout the week. “The key number for us is around loyalty,” Bell tells Carr. Bell says he looks at “people who come back to a channel five out of seven days. If you look at channels like Cosmo and ESPN, the number of users that come back five out of seven days is huge.”

Snapchat Discover’s focus on channels rather than individual personalities is another counterintuitive move. “What’s particularly audacious is that Snapchat is asking its users to care about channels,” Carr writes. “Elsewhere in media, people prefer to follow content or personalities.”

Whereas an online viewer is more likely to watch a Jimmy Fallon clip on Fallon’s YouTube channel (8 million subscribers) than on NBC’s YouTube channel (380,000 subscribers), Snapchat is betting that channel loyalty still has a place in online video. Says Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, a Snapchat board member: “It’s a return to the old broadcast model.”

Read the November 2015 feature here.

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