In The Mix

Snapped Up

The NBCU Digital team doubles down on social media platform Snapchat.

Dan Frankel
  • Rob Hayes

    Chris Haston

When Rob Hayes joined NBCUniversal Media in 2012 as executive vice-president of digital, he found NBC stuck in the Web 1.0 era.

"The digital business was still very disconnected from the core business," he says. "It was kind of run as a dot-com, with display ads and microsites."

Hayes was well suited to the job ahead. Two decades earlier, as an international business development exec at Showtime, he had shifted his career — and the premium cable network itself — into what was then called the "new media" business. Having watched the social internet evolve in the years since, he understood that finding young audiences is no longer about driving viewers to websites. The programming has to be native to the social platforms where young people live.

"When I arrived, [NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt had a mission to turn the network around. It was ranked number four — not a great position. We leaned into our strength, which is our storytelling." The two had worked together at Showtime, which Greenblatt ran until 2010; he joined NBC in January 2011.

NBC's revival has also been about where and how it tells its stories. Jump forward five years, and NBC is a perennial first-place finisher among the major broadcast networks — not just in the Nielsen ratings that measure live viewership on local NBC stations, but in on-demand viewing across the landscape of social platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

If over-the-air broadcast is still what NBC calls home, you could say Snapchat is the more functionally situated city apartment where it's spending a lot of time these days.

And if NBCUniversal's $500 million investment into Snapchat's initial public offering a year ago wasn't punctuation enough, the Peacock's recent success — creating new shows for the platform and customizing existing ones — proves its commitment to the youth-centric Snapchat platform.

NBC News, for example, reported in January that its daily Snapchat news show, Stay Tuned, had 4 million subscribers just five months after its launch. More than two-thirds of that audience is 25 or younger.

Last year, NBCU and Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, jointly launched a Santa Monica–based digital content studio headed by veteran NBC primetime programming exec Lauren Anderson. The studio is hard at work on original shows tailored for mobile viewing on Snapchat. Among the first producers working there are Jay and Mark Duplass, who have parlayed their early "mumblecore" movie success into an overall deal and three series (so far) at HBO.

Then there's the work that Hayes's team of nearly 200 NBC Digital staffers is doing in New York and L.A., turning NBC shows like The Voice, Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon into Snapchat hits that seem native to the platform. In fact, The Voice on Snapchat Show was nominated last year for an Emmy for Interactive Media Within an Unscripted Program.

For such productions, Hayes says, his team is "highly integrated into every aspect of the show," with planning usually starting well before on-air production begins. The "mobile-first" Snapchat platform, he adds, lets the team tell stories about Voice contestants in unique ways; it "allows interactivity and swiping, use of graphics and speed of storytelling" to satisfy a younger audience more attuned to that kind of consumption than to linear narrative.

Best of all, fruitful partnerships like the one NBCU and Snapchat enjoy have enabled the network to claim that most elusive of digital media goals — monetization. "We have a great story to tell," Hayes says. "And our ad sales team is one of the best in the industry. The way we approach selling cross-platform has been very successful for us, as well."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2018