DANA POINT, California — Snapchat, the social messaging app that first entered the public consciousness largely because of its competitive advantage in the nude photo trade, now has a key edge over Twitter that might help it become the future of media.
So said a number of media executives who trumpeted the four-year-old app at the Code/Media conference here this week, saying it excels over the larger and more intractable Twitter as a discovery vehicle for good content. “I find that when I go on Twitter, there’s an overwhelming avalanche of content,” said Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and a Snapchat board member. “It’s like Niagara Falls, you can never get on top of it.”
Coles said that unlike Twitter — a popular punching bag among attendees at the conference — Snapchat makes it easier to serendipitously discover content. She said the limited number of channels is one of the “great joys” of Snapchat Discover, a network of media partners that now provides 19 channels of content from companies such as BuzzFeed, ESPN and, of course, Cosmo.
And Discover’s bite-sized bits of content are perfect for users who have mild curiosity about a topic, but not enough to read a full feature. “There’s something satisfying about going to something on the Discover platform and getting a hit of it,” Coles said.
Coles also said she believes in the money-making potential of Discover. She said its Sweet channel, a joint venture between Snapchat and Hearst Corp. that focuses on topics like interior design and fashion, will eventually allow users to purchase straight from the app.
“At some point that will morph into an e-commerce platform so you will be able to buy from it,” she said.
Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, also on Snapchat’s board, echoed the endorsement. He said he’s been on the service since it had about 25,000 devotees — it now has about 100 million daily users — and uses it as his primary means of communicating with his nieces and nephews, who are the future media audience. And after 2014’s devastating Sony hack, which has Lynton faxing like it’s 1987 again, he certainly sees the value in the app’s disappearing message feature.
While Snapchat Discover appears ascendant, sports behemoth ESPN is not, at least according to Wall Street. As the network spends more and more on sports rights — seen as maybe the last remaining moat for live television — its declining subscriber base can put pressure on its financials. And investors have taken notice, battering ESPN parent Walt Disney Co.’s stock, despite the international cash cow that was “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
But Casey Wasserman, L.A. sports macher and CEO of talent agency Wasserman, insisted we’re nowhere close to the top of sports rights fees. He said sports rights are “unique and defensible in a world where nothing is,” and he expects rights fees to continue to escalate as media companies battle for a product with a built-in audience. And he said the bigger the rights fees get, the more money flows to athletes, such as the ones he represents. Wasserman also envisions athletes interacting with their fans directly via social media and potentially conducting e-commerce over those channels.
“Any platform with a lot of people is a platform our athletes should take advantage of, and e-commerce is a big opportunity,” he said.
Of course, no media conference in 2016 would be complete without robust, if vague, excitement about the potential of virtual reality. On Thursday, Upfront Ventures partner Kara Nortman debuted Maze, a new game from Seedling that allows a player to construct a physical maze out of textured cubes and import it into a VR world, where he or she can feel like she’s running through it. Seedling actually began as an old-fashioned physical toy business before starting its digital strategy in 2014. As far as where VR might take media, Lynton might have summed it up best.
“That, more than anything else, will entirely change the vocabulary of film and television making,” he said. “And that’s impossible to predict.”