Snapchat is rolling back the redesign it made in June to its all-important Stories tab and rolling out new features, like Story Playlists and post-roll ads, that may make Snapchat more like TV than ever, and potentially better.
If you already know what’s changed but don’t understand why, you can head straight here. Otherwise, here’s a rundown of what is going on and what it means for Snapchat, as well as for its users and advertisers.
What’s happening to the Stories tab?
There are two types of changes.
Appearance-wise, the Recent Updates feed of people’s individual Stories will now appear atop the Stories tab, and the feed of Discover publishers’ channels and Live Stories will be placed below it. Depending on how many people you follow on Snapchat, those Discover channels and Live Stories may appear way lower than usual, making it more likely than you’ll need to swipe over to the Discover tab to remember they exist.
The bigger change is how the Recent Updates feed works. Remember back in March, when Snapchat made it so that when one person’s Story ended, you would automatically be shown the next person’s story? Remember how some people were bummed that they would no longer be automatically returned to the Recent Updates feed to pick and choose whose Story they saw next? Well, Snapchat is pressing “undo” on that change.
By going back to how things used to be. Now, after you view someone’s Story, you’ll be returned to the Recent Updates feed.
But I liked being able to go directly from one person’s Story to the next.
Me, too. But we’re not entirely SOL. So long as we’re not hopelessly lazy, we can still swipe ourselves from one Story to the next; we just can’t count on Snapchat to do it for us.
Does that mean I won’t see ads between Stories anymore?
Correct. “Between” being a very important word; I can explain why in a sec. Oh, and you’ll still see ads between Stories when you’re watching your Story Playlist.
My what now?
Your Story Playlist. It’s a new thing Snapchat is rolling out. It’s basically a mini-Recent Updates feed that you curate for yourself.
You tap on the thumbnails next to the individual Stories you want to add to a Story Playlist. When they change, it check-marks, which means they’ve been added to your Story Playlist. You can watch your Story Playlist by tapping on the purple “play” button at the bottom of the Stories screen, and when you do, Snapchat will automatically transition you from one Story to the next.
And that’s when I’ll see the ads?
Yep. You might also see them after you watch an individual Story.
Wait. Snapchat’s adopting post-roll ads?
Yep again. If you watch a single Story from the Recent Updates feed, you might see an ad at the end. And you might also see an ad when you finish watching a Story Playlist.
Do people even watch post-roll ads?
Only if they have to, is my guess. Facebook had tried out post-roll ads before, but that didn’t really work. And people will be able to skip past Snapchat’s post-roll ads like they do its between-Stories ads.
So isn’t this bad for Snapchat’s advertising business?
It doesn’t have to be, but it depends on how willing people are to use Story Playlists and how important post-roll ads are to its revenue. The people running Snapchat aren’t dumb. They’re not going to intentionally do something that weakens their pitch to advertisers, especially if the company plans to go public next year. But they do seem to be making some big bets in hopes of strengthening their pitch.
Bet 1: People want to curate their own Story Playlists.
Bet 2: People spend as much, if not more time watching Stories in Story Playlists than they previously did. As a result, there is no negative impact on ad delivery, and post-roll ads become supplementary inventory.
Bet 3: People will be less likely to skim-swipe through Stories in a Story Playlist and will spend more time actually watching them.
Bet 4: People will take pride in their curation skills and will want to share their Story Playlists so that other people can watch them.
Bet 5: People will be willing to follow more people without feeling that there are too many Stories in their Recent Updates feed.
Bet 6: People will pay more attention to the Stories listed in their Recent Updates feed.
OK, so how would these bets pay off?
Recent Updates is Snapchat’s most important section. It is Snapchat’s equivalent to Facebook’s News Feed, Instagram’s main feed, Twitter’s timeline, YouTube’s home page or a live-TV programming guide. But it needs to be better than any of those other feeds.
A person’s Recent Updates feed is only as good as the Stories in it and that person’s ability to navigate those Stories. The more Stories added to a feed, the harder it may become to find good ones to watch. “So many channels and nothing to watch” becomes a cliche applicable to Snapchat.
But if the Recent Updates feed is like a TV programming guide, maybe the Story Playlist can be like the DVR (albeit one whose programs expire 24 hours after they first aired). Pick out exactly the Stories you want to watch, add them to a Story Playlist and watch them and only them. If it’s the middle of the day and you only want to see Stories from your friends, you can. If it’s after work and you only want to catch up on celebrities’ Stories, you can. If it’s Saturday morning and you want it all, you got it.
Maybe you decide you want to find other Stories to watch for the times you’re in the mood for a news-centric Story Playlist or a sports-centric one. So you start following more people on Snapchat and watching more Stories but with more control over what you watch and when. And maybe Snapchat adds an option to save these playlists. Then you won’t have to create these playlists from scratch every time. Instead you’ll be able to pull up your list of playlists and tune into the friends-only one with all the latest updates.
If Story Playlists result in people spending more time on Snapchat, that’s potentially less time they’re spending on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or YouTube or TV. And if Snapchat can make that quality time — i.e., people tuning into Stories instead of channel-surfing them — then maybe that will also mean more time that people spend watching an ad, or at least slower trigger fingers to swipe past an ad. And Snapchat could look at what Stories are added to a Playlist as another signal of someone’s interests and use that signal to better target ads.
Let’s say a lot of people start curating Story Playlists and taking a lot of care in their curation, especially after Snapchat (hopefully) starts archiving them. People start bragging about their “Best of Snapchat” playlists or their “nightly news” playlist or their “Kardashian Klan” playlist. And other people start asking for their playlists or to make playlists for them. “Hey, can you make a funny one for me to watch on the train to work so I’m not so bummed about heading to the office?” or “I want one that’s just people posting cool doodles” or “I want one starring athletes to get me pumped before I work out” or “Is there one to inspire me with motivational messages from people other than DJ Khaled?”
Snapchat could add a way for people to share these playlists with their friends or make them public, a la Spotify. That would come in particularly handy for people who are new to Snapchat and don’t know who to follow or why or what to watch. Not only would that help Snapchat grow and initiate its audience, but it would also give Snapchat a leg up in figuring out which ads to show that audience, since the shared playlists would carry the same types of ads as the normal Story Playlists. That means more targeted ads at scale, which translates into more money per ad and more ads.
And finally, if there are more Stories appearing in the Recent Updates feed and people are more willing to sift through that feed for Stories to watch, maybe they’ll be cool with Snapchat slotting in paid placements, aka Sponsored Stories or Promoted Stories (assuming those Stories are given better titles than the brand’s name). Brands could pay to have their Stories — or branded Stories they paid a celebrity or publisher to post — placed in certain types of people’s Recent Updates feeds. And Snapchat could introduce a different corresponding pricing scale: one cost if people click to see an individual Sponsored Story from the Recent Updates feed; another cost if people add it to a Story Playlist; and yet another cost if people add it to a shared playlist. Then those costs could vary depending on how many individual snaps in a Sponsored Story are played.