Written by fountaininkseries

In a Snap Snapchat's remaking of social media

In a Snap Snapchat's remaking of social media by fountaininkseries

BY ALIA ALLANA

School’s out but she can’t wait to get to the library. In the corner of the room, past stacks of books on biology, is a safe where 9th and 10th graders deposit their mobiles at the start of the day. She signs in the ledger and grabs her mobile, identifying it by the diamante-encrusted initials on the back of the case: LV. Layla V. is a Class X student.

“In the car,” she writes to her mother on WhatsApp. It’s a picturesque drive from the heart of colonial Mumbai in Fort, past the Art Deco buildings that line the Marine Drive and onwards to the big bungalows on Malabar Hill. She doesn’t look up.

Her eyes are glued to the screen. Notifications keep piling up. There are over 50 unread messages on WhatsApp, dealing with the mundane and formal: tuition timings for upcoming exams, after-school practices, and a busy family group that she’s put on mute. There may be the odd alert on Facebook and on good days a few hundred likes on Instagram but the banter, the time-pass takes place on Snapchat.

This week everyone on Snapchat is talking about Coachella, a music festival in the deserts of California. A friend sends a snap suggesting a Coachella-themed house party. The message disappears as soon as she’s seen it. She replies with a 10-second video message that too will disappear into Internet oblivion.

When she’s done streaking—sending one video message after another—Layla clicks on Kylie Jenner’s, the youngest member of the Kardashian-Jenner brood, story. Kylie has coloured her hair neon-highlighter green, she’s hosting a star-studded party on the sidelines of Coachella with her sister Kendall, she’s zooming in on her breasts while Pia Mia’s hit song plays in the background.

Layla clicks on Alessandra Ambrosio’s story. The Victoria’s Secret model is already in Coachella Valley in the Victoria’s Secret Angel Oasis with a group of models. Then on to Martin Garrix, the superstar DJ who is backstage performing a sound check.

“I feel like I’m there with them,” Layla says.

She clicks on Discover in Snapchat and watches Snapchat’s broadcast from the festival, a series of edited 10-second clips. It reads: “Coachella Festival Fashion: Playing Dress up in the Desert”. Women in barely-there skirts and cowboy boots talk about their outfits, someone with purple hair gives a 10-second tutorial on how to make a French braid, and snaps are accompanied by one-liners: “even unicorns exist here” and “emoji pants are the new flower crown”.

In the spirit of Coachella, Layla embraces her inner bohemian and takes a selfie with Snapchat’s flower crown filter. She scribbles on top of it: “LIT”.  “Saying cool is so passé,” she says and sends the snap to her best friends list, unfettered by whether she looks perfect. It is more real; raw.

“Nothing lasts forever,” she says.

That’s the promise and illusion of Snapchat: A corner of the Internet that’s erasable, that can be forgotten.

***

For the well-acquainted (read: millennial and Generation Z) snapping is simple: the app’s landing page is the camera, an icon in the corner flips the camera for the selfie-generation and snappers have the choice to embellish their selfie with playful graphical flourishes such as bunny ears and voice changers, morph their faces into tacos or face swap with Donald Trump. This led Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times to write that the app was among several that were “creating a charming alternative universe online—a welcome form of earnest, escapist entertainment that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.”

“Snapchat isn’t about capturing the traditional Kodak moment. It’s about communicating with the full range of human emotion—not just what appears to be pretty or perfect,” wrote co-founder Evan Spiegel in a blog post on snap.com on May 9, 2012, the day the first prototype aimed as an alternative to existing social media was launched. After hearing “hilarious stories about emergency detagging of Facebook photos before job interviews and photoshopping blemishes out of candid shots before they hit the Internet (because your world would crumble if anyone found out you had a pimple on the 38th day of 9th grade),” Spiegel thought, “There had to be a better solution.”

Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy found the answer in ephemerality. They disrupted Facebook and Google’s narrow-minded devotion to the “Online = Offline” culture. In contrast to the merger of online and real-world identities occurring on social networking sites, there was merit in anonymity. In an interview to The Telegraph in 2013, Spiegel talks about the how digital and physical worlds have become one and the same largely due to smartphones.

One day you log in and you realise this is not me. Everything you’re posting you’re doing it in the context of everything you’ve posted before. Let’s delete everything, save the stuff that’s important and then you only have to organise the one per cent that’s worth keeping

“One day you log in and you realise this is not me. Everything you’re posting you’re doing it in the context of everything you’ve posted before. Let’s delete everything, save the stuff that’s important and then you only have to organise the one per cent that’s worth keeping,” he said.

It was this streak that led Spiegel and Murphy to develop Picaboo with Reggie Brown (a fraternity brother at Stanford who came up with the now iconic logo and has since been booted out with a $157.5 million compensation) in a Stanford dorm in April 2011. When Picaboo first appeared on the App Store it was described as a game and in a sense it was just that. Users received a point for every message sent and everyone could see the three people whom a person messaged the most. Time and again Spiegel quoted the designer couple Charles and Ray Eames: “Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are preludes to serious ideas.”

***

Snapchat at best attempted to put us in the moment and at worse rewrote the rules of nostalgia and the way we preserved pictorial memories. There was seriousness in Snapchat’s gone-in-ten-seconds frivolity: it isn’t just about disappearing selfies or barfing rainbows but about capturing a moment that can be shared freely without bothering about the broader consequences of an upload. Silliness, even thoughtlessness, would never again be dissected. A snap need not be burdened with the weight of global injustices; it need not be shamed for its privilege, or suffocated by the demands of political correctness. It would remain private for a few seconds and then self-destruct. In a world where everything on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter becomes a permanent part of your Internet persona, impermanence is golden.

The numbers for the five-year-old start-up are impressive. On any day, 158 million people are on Snapchat and on average open the app 18 times a day. This means users are spending 25 to 30 minutes on the app daily. An astonishing 2.8 billion snaps are created and shared; 9,000 snaps are shared every second, images and 10-second videos that will disappear after viewing in a digital magic trick. Sixty per cent of users chat with friends on Snapchat, while there are 10 billion video views every day. Most users are in North America and Europe though the app is growing in popularity across the world. In March it was the most searched-for app on Apple’s universe. Most users are 18-34 years old and engagement levels are higher on iOS than Android. Snapchat claims that more than 60 per cent of ads on Snapchat are viewed on mobile devices with the audio turned on.

***

She was a married woman, a mother of four and lived two buildings diagonally opposite him. He was nine years younger and had recently returned after years in Dubai. He was a man of means and owned a TV store. Often when she came to the balcony, she would see him smoking with a group of men and passersby would stop to shake his hand. Over the space of a few weeks, she caught him gazing upstairs with increased frequency. When their eyes met, she says, she couldn’t break away from his stare.

These were fleeting moments of privacy in the sprawling Agripada in South Mumbai, where well-to-do Muslims live traditional lives, where the mingling of sexes is strictly frowned upon, and where elderly women hold kitty parties to gossip.

It was a cool evening in January when she hurried past his store and saw him standing outside. He was a smooth operator and chucked a piece of paper into her bag. The passing of notes, often called “chits” and “digits”, in the mohalla was commonplace. Agripada is the sort of place where falling in love was a hobby.

For days she laboured over the “digits.” Should she call him? What would she say? When her husband was out one night smoking sheesha with his friends, and their children asleep, she called him but hung up on the second ring. She was scared. What if someone found out? That night when he called her back they spoke for three hours. She hung up only because her husband had returned home at 1 a.m.

Hers wasn’t an unhappy marriage despite the fact that she been married young to an older man. Her husband had always been good to her, their togetherness was a pact of sorts. She had known of his affairs but had never indulged in one though the opportunity had presented itself “two or three” times, she said.

So when she replayed the conversation, of “a WhatsApp that didn’t record everything,” she was excited and nervous. “Even if your husband goes through every single part of your phone, he won’t know a thing,” he had promised. She toyed with the idea of downloading the app for a couple of nights and when she did, he had already devised a strategy. She would stand by his store and open Snapchat. They would both open the “Add Nearby” option. To her it appeared as though he had done this before, a charge he vehemently denied.

It worked and opened the floodgates for one of the most talked about affairs in this conservative society. “How can you catch a cheat when there is nothing to see?” asked a notorious gossip. “First it was BBM then Facebook. But nothing has been as crafty, as sly as Snapchat,” she said.

They eloped. She left her four children behind.

***

From the get-go Spiegel batted away assumptions and accusations that Snapchat encouraged risqué behavior. He told TechCrunch that sexting remained only a corner of the experience; he was “not convinced that the whole sexting thing is as big as the media makes it out to be…I just don’t know people who do that. It doesn’t seem that fun when you can have real sex.” He followed it up with an interview with New York magazine, “It doesn’t actually make sense for sexting…because you see the photo for, what, three seconds?” He told the The New York Times, “It’s not our job to police the world or Snapchat of jerks.”

Others criticised Spiegel for developing a service that was puzzling to anyone born before 1982 and complicated to use. There are no intuitive buttons on Snapchat, just cryptic icons and swipe gestures that trigger different functions. It’s nearly impossible to search for other users unless you know their user names or mobile numbers.

Snapchat kept evolving. By the time 50 million photos were being sent a day, Snapchat introduced video and Spiegel dropped out of Stanford three classes shy of graduating and relocated to his attorney father’s multi-million-dollar mansion in the Pacific Palisades. When Snapchat opened its first office, it chose Los Angeles’ Venice Beach instead of San Francisco’s Bay Area because it was cooler. By May 2013, Mark Zuckerberg had used the app and Al Gore was raving about it and Snapchat was attracting serious funding. Zuckerberg tried to buy Snapchat for $3 billion but was turned away, leading to bitter resentment. The subsequent labelling of Zuckerberg as the “King of Petty”, as he attempted to protect his turf, was born out of this. By the time 350 million messages were being sent, the company introduced stories, short video blogs that had a 24-hour shelf life.

Amid hacking and leaked email scandals that plagued the app and Evan Spiegel, Snapchat debuted the Our Stories feature, a grass-roots look into life at the Oscars, the NFL and pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

By August 26, 2014, Snapchat had one million users and on Halloween that year they ran their first ad. It was a trailer for a horror movie called “Ouija” and film distributor Universal Pictures said it was viewed by millions.

Techies value disruption and Snapchat was rewriting the rules of the game, it was constantly innovating. Before Snapchat, most online content—be it blogs or tweets—appeared in reverse chronological order, the most recent post appeared first.  Snapchat’s stories ushered in a natural order: a snapper’s first update was viewed first and the rest followed, employing a linear narrative in storytelling.

Prior to Snapchat, the industry default was to save user data that was constantly culled and re-examined in order to learn, second-guess advertising and product preferences. This is how Google and Facebook operate, a practice that Spiegel has called 'creepy'.

Prior to Snapchat, the industry default was to save user data that was constantly culled and re-examined in order to learn, second-guess advertising and product preferences. This is how Google and Facebook operate, a practice that Spiegel has called “creepy.” Spiegel also challenged a law held sacrosanct in digital media: virality. Popularity online has come to be judged by the speed and pace with which a post or a tweet travels. Though a snap can be forwarded, its short life does not allow it to become a viral hit.

Unlike Facebook and Google, which focus on technologies that advance material based on what’s popular, Spiegel has moved away from the world of algorithms, of clicks and likes, relying not on software that decodes a user’s interest but placing bets on traditional media and old-fashioned editors. “There’s a sort of weird obsession with the idea that data can solve anything,” Spiegel told Bloomberg in 2015, “I really haven’t seen data deliver the results that I’ve seen a great editor deliver.”

***

“Delete is our default,” claims Snapchat. The truth, however, is more complicated. According to Snapchat most messages sent will be deleted from the Snap Inc’s servers once they are viewed. Unopened snaps are designed to delete after 30 days, and unopened snaps sent to a group chat delete within 24 hours but there is a warning.

“Snapchatters who see your messages can always potentially save them, whether by taking a screenshot or by using some other image-capture technology (whether that be a separate piece of software, or even simply taking a photo of their screen with a second camera),” the company says. Third-party apps such as Poke which are widely available allow users to view and save snaps indefinitely—the auto-deletion function works only in the official Snapchat app. This is how there is an account on Instagram called “kylizzlesnapchats” which contains videos and stills of each and every one of Kylie Jenner’s snaps.

According a complaint by the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2014, Snapchat deceptively told its users that the sender would be notified if a recipient took a screenshot but any Apple device with a operating system pre-dating iOS7 can use a simple method to evade the app’s screenshot detection. The FTC alleged Snapchat transmitted geolocation information from users of its Android app, despite saying in its privacy policy that it did not track or access such information. The company settled with the FTC without admitting guilt and promised to be more forthcoming with its user base in the future. All content selected by the user to be a part of Snapchat Memories is saved.

There is also a particularly thorny update to Snapchat’s Terms and Conditions which said Snapchat has a “worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, create derivative works from, publicly perform, broadcast, distribute, syndicate, promote, exhibit, and publicly display” any content you upload to the app, “in any form and in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed)”.

The same document claims Snapchat “can’t guarantee that messages and corresponding metadata will be deleted within a specific timeframe”. Agreeing to this gives Snapchat the right to trawl through users’ personal data and share it with third parties. Snapchat also has the rights to upload entire contact lists from iPhones without the users’ knowledge. This matter came to the fore when hackers stole the contact information for 4.6 million Snapchat users. It gets even murkier when Snaps are submitted to the Live Stories feature because Snapchat claims that these are public posts and therefore allows them to be saved indefinitely. They can be passed on to third-party sources. Facebook and Instagram have similar terms and conditions but neither has laid claims to a transient Internet in the way Sanpchat has.

***

Shirin J. has had the Internet on her mobile since the age of seven. She may open her laptop once or twice a week but mostly, she’s connected to everyone on her smartphone.

“I use email like once a year,” she says.

In class 9, the app you use matters.

The first app, her Siri suggestion and Top Hit is Snapchat. She first got on it three years ago and reminisces about how much has changed. WhatsApp replaced BBM and then Instagram came along. With that came a lot of pressure to be perfect.

“I once bought a teeth whitening app,” she says. There is another app called a Facetune which makes your cheekbones sharper. There was another to make the colour of your skin lighter but her mother didn’t let her buy that one. Instagram was all about calculation: how to get the largest number of likes. A paper published in the journal Psychological Science shows that “likes” activate the same reward centre in the brain that is involved in the sensation of pleasure and activated by thoughts of sex or money. For the likes, she had a notebook with hundreds of captions and before she posted a picture, she would ask at least five people if she was making the right decision.

In a world full of apps, she is spoilt for choice. Shirin does her homework with her friends on Skype, sometimes they have parties with up to five or six people in an app called Houseparty but for “casual” conversation, there is Snapchat.

“Whereas YouTube is about following other people, Snapchat is about connecting with other people,” she says.

Do you read?

She laughs and flicks her hair. “Do I look like a nerd?”

***

Storytelling is at the heart of Snapchat. Snapchat’s editorial team was creating stories from the Olympics in 2016 to bring its audience a more intimate view of life at the games. Thirty-five million users watched from USA as Snapchat helped expand viewership that had hit a 16-year prime-time ratings low on NBC according to The New York Times.

In 2015, Snapchat live-streamed Ramzan prayers from Mecca and people across the world could see stories of worshippers breaking their fasts over iftar and panoramic views of the Ka’aba where pilgrims performed rituals. Stories were coming from everywhere: New York and Toronto, Dubai and Mosul. But to keep people glued to the app, Snapchat needed a steady stream of content.

With this in mind, Snapchat launched its new media hub: Discover. In an official statement, Snapchat assured viewers that this would not be a click-bait cash grab but world-class storytelling that put the narrative first. “This is not social media. Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important,” Spiegel said.

Snapchat thus encouraged its partners to focus on developing a strong editorial voice for a younger generation that had forsaken TV for the smartphone. The key Snapchat demographics are the millennial and Generation Z. The largest Snapchat age demographic is 18-24, making up 37 per cent of its users. Post college and early professionals make up about 26 per cent of Snapchatters and about 12 per cent are ages 35 to 54. Snapchat is not a player in the Baby Boomer, with only 2 per cent of its users over the age of 55 according to the Statistics Portal.

Discover provides users daily access to stories—text, photos and videos—that are available for a 24-hour period. The company has up to 20 partners including BuzzFeed, CNN, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Refinery 29 and Daily Mail, making Snapchat a powerful platform for distributing media content. Discover partners generally post around 10 videos a day. App users tap on a channel icon to start the stream and tap again to skip to the next one. If they want to read further, they swipe up which leads to a longer version of the article but no matter how they click or swipe, they remain within the app. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, links to the web aren’t allowed. The number of Discover spots are limited and highly coveted. When Yahoo! and Katie Couric, the legendary anchor weren’t bringing in the numbers, they were let go and the spot was given to BuzzFeed. Jonah Peretti, the CEO of BuzzFeed, disclosed in 2015 that 21 per cent of his company’s overall audience came from Snapchat.

Snapchat has made forays into news and appointed Peter Hamby, the former CNN political reporter to lead news. But it’s not been an easy ride to gauge what the viewers want. In an interview with the Fast Company, CNN executive vice president P. Andrew Morse said, “A lot of people just assumed, Okay, this is a younger demo and therefore they’re going to want cat videos but that wasn’t the case. They’re engaging with really smart storytelling, which for us is gratifying.”

Snapchat also ran a BBC Parorama documentary on the refugee crisis that documented the journey of migrants in real-time time in what was called a “day-by-day digital documentary”.

But while there have been important stories, such as CNN’s ISIS coverage, most of the content on Discover is fluff.

This hasn’t prevented the White House from setting up an account on Snapchat. In fact former president Barack Obama appeared on the company’s in-house political show, Good Luck America. For 48 hours in the week before the election, Obama appeared on the app encouraging, urging people to vote for Hillary Clinton. “People, this is Barack Obama. If I can figure out how to Snapchat, you can figure out how to go vote.”

With limited spots and the added cost of specialised teams dedicated to creating Snapchat content, publishers can reach an audience through their own story.

Every week, The New Yorker unveils its latest issue in a classy, emoji-free manner, its tone consistent and content representative of a 91-year-old literary magazine. In conversation withthe magazine’s media reporter Ken Auletta, Spiegel at the Association of Magazine Media’s American Magazine Media Conference in New York, described Discover as a “video magazine” that was the outcome of a departure from desktops that were defined by text to mobile phones that are visual.

Spiegel struck a deal with Vanity Fair (VF) to illustrate how it’s trying to accommodate publishers who can’t produce 20 videos a day but still want to reach Snapchat’s audience. This deal saw the highly anticipated Hollywood cover of the magazine unveiled on the app as well as an exclusive making-of video about the VF photo shoot, a story about dressing for the Oscars and past pictures from Vanity Fair’s Oscar Party photo booth. These weren’t the rehearsed pictures we are accustomed to seeing Hollywood’s leading actresses in, but raw access to stars who for better or worse appeared real.

***

Nobody in modern celebrity culture understands the value of real more than the Kardashian clan. Their meteoric rise coincided with the eruption of social media. And the first family of reality TV has juiced digital in every conceivable way with billion dollar benefits: Kim Kardashian once known for a sex tape appeared on the cover of Forbes titled “The New Mobile Moguls,” an image that she uploaded on Instagram accompanied by #NotBadForAGirlWithNoTalent, Kendall Jenner with an Instagram following of 79.1 million is one of the most sought-after and highest-paid models in fashion, and Kylie Jenner, who was nine when Keeping Up with the Kardashians (KUWTK) debuted, is the most followed person on Snapchat though the exact number of followers hasn’t been disclosed by the app.

kylizzlemynizzl’s snaps have propelled her into the stratosphere as a millennial icon. Her snaps have been emulated, her long stares into the camera as she lip syncs have catapulted obscure R&B artists to international fame. She is like any other 19-year-old, only she is driving a Ferrari, wearing off-the-runway collections and playing with her dogs Norman and Bambi in million dollar mansions that she owns. Kylie Jenner is a true auteur of our time, writing, producing and starring in her own show on Snapchat. Her look—plumped-up lips, heavy makeup and a constantly changing rainbow of hair colors—has young fans in constant frenzy.

She is selling herself. She is selling the Kylie Jenner brand, commodifying herself making use of the most talked about part of her: lips. When Jenner was 17, she injected her lips with the filler Juvederm, though she initially denied cosmetic surgery rumours. In a tweet in April 2014, she said:“These plastic surgery rumors hurt my feelings to be honest, and are kinda  insulting.(sic.)” But by May 2015, she confessed, “I have temporary lip fillers. It’s just an insecurity of mine, and it’s what I wanted to do,” on KUWTK.

The truth was out but it also created a fascination with Kylie Jenner’s pout, kind of like the one with Tina Turner’s legs and Jennifer Lopez’s derrière. And she sold that.

These seemingly innocent Kylie’s Lip Kits (liquid matte lipsticks with lip liner duos)—first  teased on Snapchat in 2015, designed to create the perfect “Kylie lip”, and retailed at $29—have resulted in astronomical success. Fans have stalked her social media accounts, countless websites are dedicated to reviewing them, there is no consensus on the product but one thing is known: when the Lip Kits arrive in a marketing tactic known as “the drop”, they will be announced by a personal message on Snapchat directing fans to her website. All products will be sold, on an average, in less than a minute. Then the process will begin again. Since its launch, the line has grown to include Kyshadows (eye-shadow palettes whose arrival was heralded with Snapchat tutorials), Kyliner, Kylighters. Money Nation, a web site that describes itself as personal finance resources, estimate that Kylie Jenner made $8.7 million from branded merchandise like her Lip Kits.

Attempting to be like Kylie Jenner is what Kylie Cosmetics is all about. She is a natural in front of the camera and a digital native in its truest sense on social media engaging with fans on a peer level. She has set up her businesses and sold products in a totally different way from traditional retail platforms, proving that her Snapchat can be a one-woman home shopping network.

Unlike Twitter, Snapchat doesn’t leave room for a disclaimer like “retweets not endorsements”. Snapchat surpassed Twitter in 2016  making it more popular by the number of daily active users. On Snapchat everyone is selling something. Fashion consultant and style influencer, Mahmoud Sidani, MrMoudz on Snapchat, is pimping out al Maha Resort, mastering the art of opening gift boxes from big brands with one hand, endorsing products without ever explicitly saying so. Huda Kattan, online sensation and CEO of Huda Beauty, who made a career throughmake-up tutorials is thanking Dior for the dress she will wear later that night to a Dior event and talking about her nose job because she wants to be real while Palestinian-born strategy consultant Ola Farhat, Rabitolla on Snapchat, is mimicking Kylie Jenner, lip syncing to songs from 90s, going shopping with her dad in IKEA, taking selfies with supermodel Bella Hadid and living online and letting us into the minutest details of her life. Meanwhile the Victoria’s Secret’s Angels, a gaggle of the most beautiful women in the world, have their own story in Coachella, a series of dizzying snaps from the perspective of one Angel to another.

Product, after product, after product. Buy, buy, and buy.

In this age of consumption, when do we stop selling and when do we stop buying? More pertinently, how do we advertise in this sea of misinformation and abundance?

We’re watching less TV today than ever before. This doesn’t mean we are watching less video though: consumers aged 13-24 watch 12.1 hours of video per week on social media such as YouTube, Netflix and other subscription-video services according to a survey by Defy Media.

The Indian experience has been kinder to the box: the time an Indian spends watching TV increased from 3 hours 15 minutes to 3 hours 30 minutes in 2015 in metros in India according to Mint. Viewership meanwhile increased from 9 billion in 2013 to 11 billion in 2016, an increase of 22 per cent.  Snapchat which claims to jealously guard it’s numbers has been hesistant to release user data, be it in North America or India.

According to Bloomberg, Snapchat’s videos have grown at a dizzying pace climbing as high as 10 billion views a day in 2016. Facebook recently reported eight billion video views though YouTube remains the most-viewed video platform among this demographic.

For the global TV ad market, which is a $213 billion business, there is “tremendous pent-up demand for big brand advertisers to allocate their brand advertising to digital,” says Imran Khan, a former investment banker for Credit Suisse who joined Snapchat as chief strategy officer in December 2016.

At the Video Music Awards (VMAs), 12 million viewers tuned in for Snapchat’s coverage of the MTV VMAs, more than the number who watched the show on TV. MTV’s own Snapchat account attracted 25 million views, whereas MTV the cable network attracted a mere 5 million. It was no surprise that top advertisers such as Cover Girl snapped up the slots on Snapchat despite rates as high as $200,000 per sponsor.

At the Video Music Awards (VMAs), 12 million viewers tuned in for Snapchat’s coverage of the MTV VMAs, more than the number who watched the show on TV. MTV’s own Snapchat account attracted 25 million views, whereas MTV the cable network attracted a mere 5 million. It was no surprise that top advertisers such as Cover Girl snapped up the slots on Snapchat despite rates as high as $200,000 per sponsor.

***

Snapchat has managed to do what YouTube couldn’t: it has amassed a TV-sized audience who was logging in within a 24-hour period to consume content that is given to them. “Evan [Spiegel] views advertising as a product, while most Internet founders view advertising as a necessary evil,” Khan said in an interview to Bloomberg.

Snapchat rewrote the rules of the game here as well. It started inserting full-screen video ads from iconic brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds that appeared in the feeds in the various media channels’ stories. Rather than the horizontal ads we are accustomed to seeing, ads on Snapchat filled the screen when the smartphone was held vertically. Snapchat claims that users are nine times more likely to consume the content if they don’t have to rotate their mobiles. In a 23-page sales pitch, Snapchat sent to ad agencies in 2015, the company says more than 60 per cent of 13-34-year-old smartphone users in the U.S. are active on the service and together view more than 2 billion videos a day. That’s already about half the number of videos people watch on Facebook, which is seven years older and has 10 times as many members.

Snapchat had a lofty aim, to be the company that would be victorious in the social network battle, beating Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; to shift traditional advertising to digital, changing the nature of advertising and publishing. But the ads on Snapchat look old school. They resemble conventional TV spots, not some new Internet format.

In other ways too, Snapchat attempts to recreate the feel of 1970s TV.  Discover is like cable TV and the Discover partners are channels. Look at the manner in which we consume content: how often do you log onto NBC to watch The Ellen Show and how frequently do you search for Ellen on YouTube? She has 44.1 million followers on Instagram whereas NBC’s Instagram account has a mere 258k followers. Spiegel is attempting to turn the clock back and revive an older broadcasting model where the channel matters as much as the star.

***

In the heart of Bollywood, on the 13th floor of a high-rise in Andheri, in a very New York like work space, Filter Copy is desperate to get a slot on Discover. To this end, it has hired, Viraj Ghelani, 24 Fifty Shades of Ghe on Snapchat, to manage their Snapchat account. He already has the followers and will redirect them to Filter Copy’s page.

The entertainment industry around them is changing. Traditional methods of auditioning are altered and people popular online are approached. Traditional production houses, they predict, will find themselves in a bind like the print media has done because they are not economically viable anymore.

Ghelani was with Sonakshi Sinha earlier this month as she promotes her new movie Noor. She starred in a Snapchat skit titled “Thoughts you have at work” written for her by Ghelani with two colleagues from Filter Copy. “Can you imagine this happening before Snapchat, that a young kid would have such access to a star?” says Ashwin Suresh, one of the co-founders of the social media house.

The founders claim social media is challenging the existing hierarchy of the film industry. You need not be connected to get to the top in Bollywood.

Since then Sonakshi Sinha has told her followers to check out Filter Copy, has been to the offices of BuzzFeed and shared countless promos of her film Noor. She’s the most natural of Bollywood stars on Snapchat.

There are plenty of others giving access into their daily lives as well. In Andheri, Rohan Joshi, a comedian and member of All India Bakchod, is making millions laugh by writing puns and making waves in the film industry. Anuya, founder of Books on Toast, a community for readers and writers is taking us on a tour of the suburbs as she attempts to get fit. House of Misu, led by two fashion consultants, aims to fill in a “gaping void in the landscape of fashion and styling in the country.” So they are positioning themselves as the Kardashians of India, sharing their glam routine, attending MAC and Mickey Contractor events, enticing users to new stores and products. Miss Malini, India’s social media queen, conducts interviews on Snapchat, takes us behind the scenes at Fashion shows and lets followers live vicariously through her.

“Snapchat is here, it is changing the way we communicate,” says Ghelani.

***

Spiegel is everything Mark Zuckerberg is not. Whereas Zuckerberg is a tech nerd in a hoodie, Spiegel is the fur coat wearing, puppy hugging cover star of Vogue. Zuckerberg allows us access into his life on Facebook, Spiegel has never tweeted, his Twitter feed is empty, and his Facebook page doesn’t exist. This restraint makes him one of the most-talked about men in the tech world, gossip magazines run stories about his relationship with Miranda Kerr, the former Victoria’s Secret supermodel. Indeed it was she who shared snaps of Spiegel and Chief Technology Officer Bobby Murphy when they rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in March. On its first day, Snapchat shares hovered at $25 before closing at $24.48, valuing the company at more than $34 billion on its stock debut making Spiegel the youngest chief executive of a company listed on Nasdaq or the NYSE. But controversy follows Spiegel.

After a series of leaked emails from his days at Stanford that contain commandments such as “put your large kappa sigma dick down her throat,” to the more recent controversy where a former colleague alleges that Spiegel said that Snapchat is an app for “rich people” and that he doesn’t want to expand into “poor countries like India and Spain,” shares of Snap Inc. fell by 1.5 per cent that led it to close at its lowest level in nearly a month.

The larger question though is how Snapchat will survive in Facebook’s world of two billion users?

What Zuckerberg couldn’t buy, he copied. Fifteen times. Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp have already gotten “Stories” update before Facebook rolled it out to its users. Now Facebook users can share content to a Snapchat clone called “Facebook stories” that appears above News Feed on mobile and works similar to Instagram’s 24-hour slideshow.

Mark Zuckerberg has been careful with timing, making crucial announcements such as unveiling Snapchat-like features a day after Snap received positive ratings, including a buy rating from Goldman Sachs when it debuted its IPO at $30 billion. After Zuckerberg’s announcement, shares of Snap Inc. fell by 5 per cent. But Snapchat has kept innovating, recently launching Spectacles. These funky sunglasses have cameras embedded in them and attempt to succeed where Google Glass failed. Khloe Kardashian has already tried them while working out at the gym. Spectacles aren’t sold in stores but rather in vending machines that pop up in random places. Users keep an eye on the Spectacles website and rush to locations, fuelling “the drop” culture. This is the same technique Kylie Jenner employs when she wants to sell her Lip Kits.

The number of users on Instagram’s Story section outnumber the users on Snapchat. But just the fact that Instagram, a site for perfect curation would engage in something as transient as Snapchat, is indicative of a broader trend in social media. As Casey Johnston writes in The New Yorker, “… the app’s introduction of an expiring highlight reel is more than a shameless grab for one of Snapchat’s core features. It’s a response to a demand: on an Internet that always remembers, we are fighting for places we can go to forget.”

Snapchat lets us do just that, in theory.

(The cover story of the May 2017 editon of Fountain Ink)

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