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I Watched a Day’s Worth of Snapchat Discover Stories—Here’s What I Learned

By Aaron Taube June 24th, 2015

In January, Snapchat rolled out its new Discover feature to some serious fanfare. In case you just woke up from a content coma, Discover allows major publishers like ESPN, CNN, and People to push out a bundle of native content optimized for the platform that only lives on Snapchat for a day. At the time, the move was hailed as a great opportunity for publishers to reach a younger audience—not to mention Snapchat’s biggest push yet to be a true player in the content wars.

Now that the 11 Discover publishers have had a few months to get their bearings on the platform, I thought it would be a good idea to check in on how they’re doing. My method? Reading. Lots and lots of reading. (Oh, and some watching.)

I went through an entire day’s worth of publisher Snapchat stories, viewing CNN, Comedy Central, Cosmopolitan, the Daily Mail, ESPN, and Food Network’s snaps on Tuesday night last week and National Geographic, People, Vice, Yahoo, and Warner Music’s offerings Wednesday morning.

It was, frankly, a lot of content to consume—I don’t plan on doing it again anytime soon. But I did mange to learn quite a bit about how publishers are sailing these uncharted waters. Here’s what I found.

There is very little content being created exclusively for Snapchat

With all of Discover’s unique features (vertical viewing, swipe navigation, one-day stories, and so on), the platform is theoretically a place for publishers to set up channels that look and feel completely different from what we’ve come to expect from television, print, and websites.

However, most publishers seem to have opted for a safer route. Virtually every single one of the stories I looked at was repurposed from elsewhere online, and most of them were formatted similarly to their web counterparts. With the exception of a few shareable memes and multimedia title pages, most publishers were content with copying and pasting text-based stories from online (like a Daily Mail story on a fatal balcony collapse) or sharing video clips first published on TV (like this years-old Tosh.0 sketch that led Comedy Central’s offering as a tie-in to the recent release of Jurassic World).

There were a few exceptions, the biggest being a new Icona Pop music video that Warner Music Group premiered exclusively on the platform, but so far Discover’s novel formatting seems like a lost opportunity.

Publishers are still trying to shoehorn in web-formatted stories

One of the interesting things about Snapchat is that, while publishers can make multimedia title pages for stories (see Yahoo’s cover page below), things are otherwise fairly straightforward once people swipe down to see the rest of the story.

I Watched a Day's Worth of Snapchat Discover Stories—Here's What I Learned

Publishers can’t embed content from elsewhere on the web, include video in a text story, or give users the option to enlarge images. The result of this is that some common multimedia web publishing formats just don’t work very well on Discover.

Case in point: the slideshow. Instead of being able to enlarge photos for full enjoyment, users are instead treated to a series of small photos made even smaller by the mobile screen.

Below, you can see how National Geographic‘s “16 Dizzying Pictures of Roller Coasters and Thrill Rides” story looked on my iPhone 6. The size of the text compared with the photos gives you a hint as to how things looked on a smaller screen.

I Watched Every Snapchat Discover Story Today — Here's What I Learned

Another issue is that it’s harder for Discover publishers to construct stories from social media assets since they can’t embed content from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

As a result, Yahoo’s story on Tom Brady dancing “awkwardly” to Trap Queen at a club (which I highly recommend) had to settle for a short video in the title page and then all text in the body of the story. Compare that with how the web-based story, originally published by Entertainment Tonight, integrated a number of Instagram and Twitter videos, and you can see the kind of limitations you face when you can’t embed.

There is very little advertising

The only ads I saw were two short videos on People‘s channel for the TBS showed Clipped.

Interpret that as you will.

I Watched Every Snapchat Discover Story Today — Here's What I Learned

There’s a split on how to use Discover

The more I scrolled through all the stories, the more I noticed a divide between how publishers interpreted Discover’s utility. Some seemed to see Discover as a place users would visit for a full serving of their brand’s content—in lieu of making a visit to their homepage or TV networks—while others treated Discover as place people would go for a content snack before visiting on another platform for additional depth and details.

For instance, the Daily Mail published what felt like an entire newspaper, with full stories of the typical Daily Mail fare: two separate photo stories about celebrities in bikinis going to the beach, weird news about a woman who used some photo tricks to make it look like she had lost weight… You get the idea.

By the time I got through all 16 Daily Mail stories, I was pretty much Daily Mail‘d out for the day. Were I a regular Daily Mail website browser, I probably would have canceled my visit for the day. Other publishers that fell into this category were Comedy Central, Vice, Food Network, and Yahoo.

By comparison, ESPN offered a nice LeBron James–Game of Thrones meme I could share with my friends, as well as video highlights of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victory. There was also WWE world heavyweight champion Seth Rollins trash-talking Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel on an episode of Monday Night Raw, which, again, I highly recommend.I Watched Every Snapchat Discover Story Today — Here's What I Learned

As someone who doesn’t follow sports too closely, this was a nice, easily digestible overview of what was happening in athletics. However, someone looking for an in-depth analysis of the Stanley Cup Finals would have needed to go to the ESPN website to get additional context. Warner Music Group, National Geographic, and People also took this tasting-platter approach.

Takeaways

To me, the biggest thing I was surprised by was how little publishers seem to be doing to make their content feel fresh for Snapchat. Still, two social-oriented tactics I did see from the more savvy publishers were creating memes people could share with their friends and doing quizzes. Credit where credit is due.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether publishers start to gravitate to a snackable philosophy (like ESPN) or embrace Discover as a place people will visit instead of their homepages (like the Daily Mail). Presumably, the answer will depend on the data publishers parse through in the months to come.

And while I will probably never again visit every single publisher in one day, I do see myself using Discover more in the coming weeks. If additional publishers begin to use the platform as a unique space like ESPN, rather than as a dumping ground for repurposed content, I could see myself using it even more—but I’m not holding my breath.

Image by Shumskaya Tatiana
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