Snapchat has made its name mostly as the smartphone app that swept the teenage world, with kids sending each other messages, or “snaps,” that disappear within seconds. But the service is now becoming something else: a way for the biggest names in media to connect with younger audiences that aren’t that interested in news.
It may seem like an odd strategy. The stories put out through the app by partners such as CNN, ESPN and National Geographic vanish quickly.
But the hope is that the estimated tens of millions of Snapchat users — mostly between 13 and 25 — will also swipe to view a video on the crisis in Ukraine, take a cute pet quiz or try out a cronut recipe found on the app.
The ways that people are finding news have radically changed in recent years, with Facebook, Google and Twitter becoming the biggest sources of stories and videos on the Internet. This means that established news companies — already under pressure to make up for lost advertising revenue — are increasingly dependent on social-media firms such as Snapchat to spread their work.
But while these news sites may get added visibility by showing up on a reader’s Facebook feed or Snapchat app, the financial benefits for them are limited since ad revenue is usually split between the news and tech firms. Meanwhile, sites like Facebook and Snapchat don’t have to spend any money creating the stories and videos that are drawing people to use their products.
And then there’s the question of whether it’s even possible to tell complex news stories quickly through such an app.
CNN recently posted on the service a story on the growing global influence of the Islamic State extremist group. Yahoo News reported on Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s speech on foreign policy.
“It’s an incredible opportunity,” said Meredith Artley, editor in chief of CNN Digital. “It’s not about getting everyone to come to you. It’s about getting young audiences where they already are.”
The evolution of Snapchat from a simple mobile messaging app to a potential rival to Facebook and Twitter illustrates the fast-
evolving power structures of the Internet, where the firms with the most users hold the greatest power. Social-media sites are the first place many people — particularly audiences younger than 34 — get their news and entertainment. That has drawn the biggest media firms, from Viacom to Time Warner, to create stronger ties with social networks in order to reach those audiences.
Those trends are only strengthening even while newspapers and cable networks aren’t able to raise online ad revenue as quickly, as their legacy print and TV businesses decline.
Of people between 18 and 29 years old, 61 percent said they got their news on politics and government from Facebook over the previous week, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll. That compared with 53 percent of those 30 to 50 years old. And one-quarter of people between 18 and 29 said they got their political news from YouTube.
For news organizations, the trick will be getting young users in the habit of reading their stories on a regular basis. For the most part, people under the age of 34 do not watch TV news or subscribe to print news. And according to a 2013 Pew report, younger news consumers and those who get such information online or from social networks are more likely to say they check in on the news only “from time to time.”
Snapchat was founded less than four years ago by Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, who had met as fraternity brothers at Stanford University. The firm, based in Venice, Calif., developed a disappearing feature for its photo messaging service that quickly caught on with teens and young adults and has become known for allowing people to send racy pictures. The site even drew a bid from Facebook to buy the company for $3 billion in 2013. Snapchat won’t say how many users it has, but estimates are as high as 100 million. The company said an average of 700 million photo texts are sent each day.
Now, as it attempts to take on Facebook, Google and other Internet giants, Snapchat hopes those young users — who often use the service every day — will stay on longer by getting their news and entertainment through the app.
For months, Snapchat has courted big media firms to come on as partners. And for now, the service doesn’t make any editorial decisions.
Each day, partners that include Food Network, the Daily Mail and ESPN choose a handful of short clips, quizzes, recipes and stories to put on the Snapchat Discover feature. Recently, that included a Food Network story about a bathroom made out of chocolate.
CNN’s take on the winter weather included “Case of the Winter Crazies,” about how people in the Northeast are going stir-crazy in the cold. It included a time-lapse video of a man wearing a swim cap and small swimming suit jumping into a pile of snow.
On Valentine’s Day, National Geographic showcased photos of cute animal pairs. It also recently posted a quiz asking what it means when a cat’s tail swishes from side to side. (Answer: It’s angry and about to pounce.)
The reception has been strong, the partners say. They won’t disclose how many users are looking at their content, but each day CNN’s handful of short videos and stories are viewed in the “seven digits,” according to people familiar with data collected by Snapchat. CNN said it has three full-time and one part-time employees who curate, write and edit content each day for Snapchat, and it plans to strengthen that team.
Early advertisers include BMW for CNN and Nabisco for Food Network.
But for now, just getting an imprint on the minds of youths is the main goal.
“Of course monetization is a goal,” said Tammy Franklin, senior vice president for Scripps Networks Interactive, which owns Food Network. “But what we really want is for Snapchat users to think about Food Network and our lifestyle brands more and engage with our brands now so we create those relationships for the long term.”