Snap Inc.'s struggles have been well-documented. From Snapchat's sluggish Android app to a revolving door of executives, it's easy to see why the app's user base has remained flat since 2017. Its biggest problem right now, though, is that it seems to be having an identity crisis. It's hard to tell what it wants to be: One day Snapchat reveals augmented reality lenses for dogs, the next it adds more hockey highlights to its app.
Snapchat is still making a major push into short-form original content too, an effort that began with the launch of Discover in 2015. Just last month, it announced a new show called Bringing Up Bhabie, featuring 15-year-old rapper Bhad Bhabie (whose real name is Danielle Bregoli). Bhad Bhabie became an internet celebrity after an appearance on Dr. Phil in 2017, where her family troubles were aired and she dared the taunting audience to "cash me ousside, how 'bout dat?" if they had something to say to her face. Since then, she's been in videos with controversial YouTube star Logan Paul and was nominated for a Billboard Music Award.
For Snapchat, having a show with Bhad Bhabie means reaching the young audiences it desperately needs, and so far that bet seems to be paying off. Bringing Up Bhabie racked up 10 million viewers in 24 hours during its debut in January, making it the biggest premiere in Snapchat's history. For comparison, E!'s Keeping Up With The Kardashians brings in about 1.5 million viewers per episode, and that's a popular series going into its 16th season.
The viewership numbers from Bringing Up Bhabie bode well for Snap, especially as it continues to invest heavily in original scripted shows. With the launch of Snapchat Originals in 2018, the company plans to roll out a slate of programming that offers one five-minute episode a day for every title it launches, including Bringing Up Bhabie. There are also others like Class of Lies, Co-Ed and Endless Summer, for people who are interested in romance or true crime stories instead of a a 15-year-old rapper.
Of course, those originals are on top of what Snapchat is already doing with shows, such as ESPN's twice-daily SportsCenter, which was introduced in 2017. Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel said during an earnings call in February that "30 percent more people" are now watching Snapchat Shows compared to last year. He said a series like Dead Girls Detective Agency, created by Snapchat and NBCUniversal, is reaching 14 million unique viewers on its own.
Still, if Snapchat hopes to grow its user base in the years to come, original video alone won't be its saving grace. Although Spiegel's hope is that these efforts will help Snap "get back on track and achieve its goal of full-year profitability" in 2019, only time will tell if his strategy will work. Jason Keath, Founder and CEO of SocialFresh (a social media training and analytics firm), told Engadget that at this moment Snapchat is "on the precipice of whether it will survive" as a public company. "[Snapchat] has seen Facebook and Instagram [do what works], but it believes it can go its own path, and that's hurt it," he said.
There are many reasons why Snapchat hasn't caught up to Facebook or Instagram, Keath said, but the lack of public profiles and embeddable content on the web are the main ones to blame for its growth troubles. Another big issue has been the app's janky user interface, particularly on Android, which Snapchat has been vowing to fix for a couple of years now.
"[Snapchat] is the best free R&D department Facebook could have ever asked for."
Then there's Snapchat's dependence on ephemeral posts, though rumors suggest it may soon allow public Stories that don't disappear. If Snapchat were to come up with a way to make Stories last longer or be permanent on someone's account, it could help it better compete with Instagram and other social networks.
"You can never deny Snapchat is a huge innovator when it comes to social platforms," Keath said. "If it had gotten a larger scale [audience] more quickly before it started to hit some of these roadblocks, it might be in a better position." What's helped Snapchat, he added, is that it's managed to hold onto its younger demographics. But Snapchat can't get too comfortable there, because newcomer social media apps like TikTok are increasingly becoming the first choice for millions of teenagers.