On Snapchat, Original Series Are Finding Return Viewers

Snapchat's Endless Summer-Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Snapchat

'Endless Summer,' which returns for a second season June 15, drew 28 million viewers during its fall debut. "Serialized content is working," says Snapchat senior director of content Sean Mills.

Over the course of its 12-episode first season on Snapchat, reality series Endless Summer took viewers through the ups and downs of influencer Summer Mckeen’s relationship with musician Dylan Jordan. By the time the season did, indeed, end, it had racked up 28 million unique viewers.

Endless Summer's second season arrives June 15 on Snapchat, part of a mid-year slate of new and returning projects, including breakup drama Two Sides, paranormal investigation series Stranded With Sam and Colby and the third season of murder mystery show The Dead Girls Detective Agency. These shows are becoming a key to Snapchat’s plan to keep its 190 million daily users engaged on its platform, and while Snapchat executives are still learning about what’s working on the platform, the early response from audiences has been encouraging.

Over the last year, time spent watching shows on Snapchat every day more than tripled. That was likely brought on by the influx of new projects — under the Snapchat Originals banner — last fall, including Dead Girls, which reached more than 14 million unique viewers during its first season, and docuseries Deep Creek, also renewed for another season, that drew an audience of 18 million. “Serialized content is working,” says senior director of content Sean Mills. “People are subscribing, they’re coming back to watch the shows at the cadence we’re distributing them.”

After a few years of experimenting with original programming through work with partners on daily news shows and other unscripted formats, Snapchat dove head-first with serialized shows in October, launching Endless Summer, Dead Girls, detective drama Class of Lies and coming-of-age comedy Co-Ed from Mark and Jay Duplass’ DBP Donut. But it was only the beginning. Vanessa Guthrie, director of originals, points out that the first slate of shows had just one comedy. This summer, they’re launching two that are “wildly different.” It’s that diversity of programming that will help the company figure out what’s working. For example, cliff-hangers, a tried-and-true feature of many TV dramas, proved successful in hooking audiences for Dead Girls.

Snapchat isn’t the only social platform making original programming these days. YouTube and Twitter have been doing it for a few years and Facebook began in 2017 with the launch of its Watch video platform. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile video startup Quibi is buying up dozens of projects in preparation for its launch next April. All of these companies are being spurred by the rise in mobile video viewing. Adults are spending an average 226 minutes on their phones each day, according to Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends report. And this year, mobile is expected to pass television as the main entertainment medium, per an NRG study.  

But Snapchat’s approach has been a bit different than its competitors, focusing specifically on short, five-ish minute long episodes, all shot in vertical video. Because of its young audience, the company is also more open to investing in up-and-coming talent than other platforms. For instance, Tessa Williams wrote all of Class of Lies after working in the Riverdale writers room, and Noah Galvin co-starred in Co-Ed before breaking out in Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart.

While other platforms, like YouTube and Quibi, are predominantly working with established names, Kathleen Grace, CEO of New Form, which produced Two Sides and forthcoming teen soap Can’t Talk Now, notes that Snapchat has “given us a great way to test and prove writers and directors and on-camera talent, and then up-level them in success.”

For Bunim/Murray, the production company behind Endless Summer, working with Snapchat provided an opportunity to experiment in a new medium after years producing some of TV’s biggest reality shows, among them Keeping Up With the Kardashians and The Real World. “We did it truly for the creative experience,” says Julie Pizzi, president of entertainment and development at Bunim/Murray, adding that they were blown away by the size of the audience they captured on Snapchat. The company is now also working on Stranded for Snapchat.

Another selling point: the app’s predominantly young viewers. Snapchat boasts that it reaches 90 percent of the 13- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. “Snapchat’s a great place for us to incubate our ideas with that younger audience,” says Pizzi. “My son’s 11. I want to make programming for him, and he doesn’t watch TV.”