Snapchat’s news experiment is working—for now

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This month Snapchat Discover tweaked its design, making the content it hosts from 12 different media partners easier, well, to discover. Then it dropped Yahoo and Warner Music from its roster of media partners and added BuzzFeed and iHeartRadio.

So far the design tweak appears to be a success. After months of decline, Snapchat’s traffic has nearly doubled, an indication that the current combination of news, ephemeral nude photos, and advertising may be good for business. And with the addition of BuzzFeed and iHeartRadio—a move that swaps out legacy media outlets for new ones—it’s also a sign that the company is experimenting with its formula for how it delivers news. Snapchat has said in the past that Discover is not about social media, but it’s clearly in the process of figuring out how to produce content for, and sell its product to, the users who came for the self-destructing selfies.

This effort, unsurprisingly, appears to be driven by the logic of two imperatives—namely, advertising dollars and traffic. 

That may help explain why Yahoo and Warner music got the axe. According to Ad Age, which has been logging the daily editions of each Discover channel since July 13, “In that span, Yahoo has only run two ads; both aired on July 20 and promoted Ford. In the same span, Warner Music Group has not run any ads. For what it’s worth, Snapchat’s own Discover channel hasn’t run any ads over that same two-week period.” Snapchat did not respond to email requests for an interview.

Ad Age also recently reported that Snapchat is now charging advertisers 2 cents every time one of its 10-second videos is viewed in Discover. At $20 per every thousand views, that’s higher than the average YouTube ad rate, which runs $2 per every thousand views. But unlike Facebook or Google, Snapchat does not target ads to its users based on their behaviors and preferences. So in order to charge a premium price for ads, Snapchat still has to prove it can get them in front of a lot of eyeballs.

So far, BuzzFeed’s brand of content, a seamless blend of ads and entertaining editorial, appears to be a custom fit for Discover. It also aims young, which is exactly what advertisers want, since the majority of its 100 million daily users are between the ages of 13 and 25, a coveted demographic for advertisers and publishers alike. In fact, most of Discover’s content keeps a millennial audience in mind, and its newsy swirl of animal memes and celebrities speaks the language of viral culture. BuzzFeed’s debut has drawn a touch of ire on Twitter. But all in all, users seem excited to have it on board.

The more pressing question is whether the app will live up to the expectations of some partners around traffic and ad revenue. “One publisher said the service only becomes financially meaningful once it starts attracting more than two million unique visitors a day, which is well above the partner’s current traffic numbers on Snapchat,” reported The Wall Street Journal. Through better design and new media partnerships—Vox is reportedly joining Snapchat soon—Snapchat hopes it can close that gap.

Damaris Colhoun is CJR's digital correspondent covering the media business. A reporter at large in New York, Colhoun has also written for The Believer, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Atlas Obscura. Find her on Twitter @damarisdeere.