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Snapchat has turned to NBCUniversal for help making its first big push into scripted programming.
The app’s parent company, Snap Inc., has struck a deal with NBCU to form a joint venture that will develop and produce new shows for Snapchat, executives from both companies tell The Hollywood Reporter. Snap Inc. and NBCU, a division of Comcast Corp., are not disclosing the amount that they are investing into the venture, but they will have equal equity stakes in the business.
The deal for the new business comes seven months after NBCU invested $500 million in Snap’s IPO and a little more than a year after the two companies first partnered to produce original programming for the app. It reaffirms NBC’s commitment to Snapchat as a platform for storytelling even as it continues to struggle to grow its user base.
“What we find so compelling about the Snap vision is this hyper-focus on telling stories in a new way that we’re not hearing from a lot of the other platforms,” says Maggie Suniewick, president of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises. “A lot of the other platforms, they want our clips of Jimmy Fallon or SNL. This is really about creating something new and different for different audiences, and we’re completely sold on that vision.”
Lauren Anderson, who currently serves as senior vp comedy development and current programming at NBC Entertainment, has been tapped as the chief content officer for the new venture, which has yet to be named. Suniewick says the executive, who has worked on such NBC comedies as The Office, Parks & Recreation and The Good Place, “has incredible talent relationships and a huge amount of respect in this industry.”
Snapchat began working with media and entertainment partners to create original unscripted programming for its platform last fall, beginning with The Rundown from E! News. It has since debuted shows from Vice Media, ABC and A+E, among others. Over the summer, Snap content chief Nick Bell signaled plans to begin producing scripted programming but said that the company would be cautious, given how much more expensive it can be to produce. By forming a joint venture with NBCU, Snap mitigates some of the risk and creates an environment in which creative partners can take more risks.
“This creative process is so unique for mobile,” says Sean Mills, who heads up original content for Snap. “We believe that creating a new company that’s wholly focused on this — that is independent, that doesn’t have competing interests, that is building on the successes we’ve had together — it’s going to be a really powerful thing. The opportunity is enormous, but it requires that level of investment and that level of focused attention.”
The venture’s first partner will be Mark and Jay Duplass’ Donut Studios, a content shop they set up earlier this year for digital and branded videos. Speaking to THR, Mark Duplass says they are already kicking around half a dozen ideas, with the goal of actually producing a handful of them. “We’ve set aside a bucket of money that we will eventually drain and apply to the right number of series, depending on how cheap or expensive they are to make,” he says, declining to reveal specifics about the size of the deal.
Duplass, who together with his brother produced Togetherness and Room 104 for HBO as well as the films Safety Not Guaranteed and Adult Beginners, says he was drawn to the idea of experimenting creatively with Snapchat’s signature vertical video format and other constraints of mobile, short-form storytelling. But he also wants to learn from the platform about how to create programming for younger audiences. “Their bullshit detectors are very, very sharp,” he says. “Our goal is to clear that bar and make something that feels very honest and very off-the-cuff and very real.”
This isn’t Snapchat’s first time diving into scripted programming. In 2015, under a previous content regime and before it had developed the “shows” format it uses today, Snapchat had commissioned comedy series Literally Can’t Even from Sasha Spielberg and Emily Goldywn for its in-house Snap Channel. When the channel was scrapped, so was the show. And in its place Snapchat developed a strategy in which it would work with outside partners to create original series, with the exception of its first show, Peter Hamby-hosted Good Luck America.
Through the joint venture, which will be based out of Santa Monica, Snap and NBCU will look to develop more partnerships like the one they’ve established with the Duplass brothers. “We want people who are committed and passionate about figuring the platform out,” says Suniewick.
For now, Suniewick and Mills say they don’t have an expectation for the number of original projects that will result from the joint venture, though Mills says Snapchat would eventually look to have as many as five shows each day debuting new episodes on the app. In addition to scripted programming, the company will explore other formats. Snap and NBCU will both sell advertising inventory for the shows that make their way to Snapchat, and NBCU will manage off-platform content distribution deals.
Snap, which went public in March with a $28 billion valuation, has lost some of its value in the months since due to widening losses and slowing user growth. Last quarter, the company reported that it added 7.3 million daily active users during the second quarter to reach 173 million total DAUs.
Media has been an area of growth for Snapchat as it invests more into its Discover platform, where publishers’ daily stories live next to original video programming. While Mills doesn’t see Snapchat going head-to-head with Netflix for TV-style original programming anytime soon, he says that developing mobile-first video will continue to be a priority for the company.
“We’re serious about it,” he says. “We think we’re onto something. We’ve seen an audience growing across all of our shows, and it’s becoming a much bigger part of our content offering. This is a fundamentally new medium. It requires a new and dedicated creative process. This is us continuing to invest in building on the success that we’ve had.”
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