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July 19, 2017, 6 a.m.
Mobile & Apps

NBC News invents the script for a twice-daily Snapchat news show

“We’re certainly walking before we’re running, but we’re actually sort of jogging before we’re running.”

NBC News is launching morning and evening news programs that will be broadcast exclusively on Snapchat Discover, starting on Wednesday.

As part of NBC Universal’s $500 million investment in Snap, Inc., the network is launching a daily news show, two to three minutes long, that will be published on Snapchat Discover at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET during the week and at 1 p.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays on Snapchat accounts in the U.S. and Canada.

Though Snapchat has featured NBC Universal content like The Voice and E! News as shows within the platform before, this is its first foray into giving a daily news show a dedicated spot in all users’ apps — and NBC News’ first time doing mobile-only produced content on such a short timeline.

“We’re certainly walking before we’re running, but we’re actually sort of jogging before we’re running,” Nick Ascheim, head of digital at NBC News, said.

The idea for the show, dubbed Stay Tuned, was born in March, and the team has been preparing practice episodes for the past few weeks.

“It’s almost like doing the Today show and Nightly News at the same time,” Andrew Springer, the executive producer of the show and NBC News’ director of social strategy, said of the planning process. (Disclosure: I’ve interned for Snapchat and for NBC Universal, though not at NBC News.)

All the stories created for the show are used exclusively on the Snapchat platform, Ascheim said, noting that the 30-person team within NBC News had to change some of its practices to adapt for Snapchat’s vertical format.

“We are leveraging the feeds coming into the building from all over the world. But because the video has to be vertical, our shot selection is quite different. We are shooting the segments with the host from the newsroom,” though it’s not your standard anchor-at-a-desk newsroom shot. “You’re not going to see them sitting behind the desk…[and host] Gadi [Schwartz] typically wears a V-neck t-shirt,” Ascheim added.

The show is hosted either by NBC News and MSNBC correspondents Schwartz or Savannah Sellers. Each episode has only one host talking through the most important news of the day in four or five segments.

Springer said the team is aiming for a vibe of “the extremely well-informed friend who happens to know more than you do, keeping you up to date on what’s going on.”

As traditional TV news has struggled to adapt to younger generations’ cord-cutting, Snapchat emerged as a leader in visual communication. According to Nielsen, Snapchat reaches nine times more 18-34 year-olds in the U.S. than the average top 15 TV networks. Relaying news while incorporating the peer-to-peer raw intimacy of the app seems to work best when using Snapchat as a news format, which NBC News correspondents and digital team members learned as they built up their own accounts during last year’s presidential election, Olympics coverage, and other large-scale news events.

In March, NBC News’ digital team was approached by Nick Bell, Snap’s VP of content, to put together a daily news show that could be updated throughout the day with breaking news. But it had the challenge of retaining the interest and attention of teenagers and young adults — while “not in any way dumbing down the news of the day,” Ascheim said.

Snapchat has been running shows on the Discover side of its app since last August, though they mostly focused on entertainment and lifestyle news. Good Luck America, a mainstay of Snapchat’s Discover since the company hired Peter Hamby from CNN as head of news in 2015 and he began hosting the periodic show, features deep dives into political and policy issues and has averaged 5.2 million viewers per episode in its second season, according to Variety.

These shows are separate from the Publisher Stories, which are featured on tiles in the Discover platform almost like a mobile magazine rack, and Our Stories, the nationally curated compilations of Snapchats sent in from users at different events. Snapchat has recently seen some backlash from publishers who are instead turning their efforts toward Instagram Stories, which has copied several of Snapchat’s distinct features and found comparative success. In Instagram Stories’ first two months, it brought on 100 million daily users, according to Digiday. That same time period was Snapchat’s lowest known percentage growth quarter. But Ascheim is bullish on Snapchat’s shows prospects — and Instagram Stories doesn’t have a feature like it.

“The engagement numbers are off the charts. Hundreds of millions use the platform every single day. We have seen from other [NBC Universal] shows that are already live on the platform that the audiences are not only large and growing, but they’re incredibly consistent,” he said. He said there’s “absolutely no reason for us to believe” that the Snapchat audience won’t “embrace it as a source for video news as well.”

Now, the NBC News team has an opportunity to get the national, international, political, and pop culture news of the day into the literal hands of every Snapchat user in the United States and Canada as the only daily news show on the app. It’s slightly reminiscent of the evening newscasts that brought Americans together with anchors to guide them through the news of the day, for the Snapchat generation.

“Our audience is going to be very different from the traditional [NBC] Nightly News audience. These are people that want to be informed, but are not necessarily news junkies,” Springer said. “We have moved away from the inverted pyramid style of saying what’s new and giving some context, to really emphasize the context and the impact: how does this story affect you, and why should you care?”

The inaugural episode, from the morning of Wednesday, July 12, has host Schwartz walking viewers through the implications of an undisclosed meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin (a 33 second-long segment), the difficulties of actually repealing and replacing Obamacare (39 seconds), the riots and recent election in Venezuela (37 seconds), quick hits about a woman killed by police responding to her 911 call in Minnesota and the White House’s Made in America week (16 seconds) and how hip hop music is dominating the streaming charts (30 seconds). Each segment is punctuated with fast transitions, split screens to fit the horizontal shots into the vertical frame, and brightly colored text identifying the main characters.

Each show may be updated throughout the day with new breaking news snippets tacked onto the front of the episode as needed. The team has the ability to entirely redo and replace a show before the next scheduled episode if the breaking news is deemed to be that crucial. Springer said he could imagine people turning to the Snapchat platform for breaking news the same way they do on Twitter and Facebook.

Springer and Ascheim also acknowledged that they’re figuring out the playbook on the go, and may incorporate sit-down interviews, field reporting, and other visual news components in future episodes of the show.

“It’s the epitome of highly produced television. Every shot has to matter. Every soundbite has to matter,” Springer said. He said the team of producers has had to cinch its segments tighter than ever before. “As producers, we tend to get hung up on details, which is fine if you have 90 seconds for your package. It’s something else when you have 20 seconds to tell somebody who Jared Kushner is.”

Since users can also tap through each clip, the way they do when passing through a regular Snapchat Story, the stakes are high to retain their attention.

“Each show has to engage from literally the first second. It’s so easy to tap through a segment of the show,” Ascheim said. “It’s taking people watching [TV news] with a remote control to whole new heights…you have to provide them a very clear reason from the get-go why they should be sitting through this.”

Lead image provided by NBC News; all other images are screenshots from the Stay Tuned show’s inaugural episode.

POSTED     July 19, 2017, 6 a.m.
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