The Future of Nightly News is Snapchat's Bite-Size Broadcasts

"Stay Tuned" is the first of its kind, but it won't be the last.

by Monica Hunter-Hart
Snapchat and NBC News

On July 19, NBC News quietly launched Stay Tuned, a new daily news broadcast airing exclusively on Snapchat. Stay Tuned is the first Snapchat-exclusive news program, but it won’t be the last: As long as we’re increasingly on our phones, news media will continue to migrate to mobile.

News organizations have been navigating the rocky jump from print to online media for decades. Until the early 2010s, the transition played out mostly on computers, not smartphones. But in mid-2014, the graphs for mobile and desktop internet usage crossed over dramatically, as users abandoned their computers in favor of iPhones, Androids, and other mobile devices. Three years later, the media is still catching up and mobile traffic is still growing.

NBC’s had to adapt to fit the Snapchat format and audience. Stay Tuned broadcasts are two to three minutes long and consist of four or five ultra-short segments about a wide variety of the day’s top headlines, from President Donald Trump’s appointment of Anthony Scaramucci to arrests at a Chance the Rapper concert. Like other Snapchat stories and shows, these broadcasts eventually disappear; each episode replaces the next. New episodes appear on Snapchat’s “Discover” page twice on weekdays and once on weekends.

Snapchat’s 166 million daily users have the potential to make Stay Tuned one of the most widely-viewed news broadcasts designed specifically for a young audience. Because it’s the first, other networks are undoubtedly watching Stay Tuned closely to see what works and what doesn’t. Here are some of the things it’s trying.

Screenshots from a "Stay Tuned" broadcast on July 24.

Snapchat; NBC News

Stay Tuned Offers as Much Context as Information

Stay Tuned often begins with context before moving into the news itself. Andrew Springer, the show’s executive producer, defines its audience as “people that want to be informed, but are not necessarily news junkies,” and told NiemanLab that the hosts “really emphasize the context and the impact: how does this story affect you, and why should you care?”

For example, on Friday, July 21, Stay Tuned ran a segment about Elon Musk getting verbal approval to build an East Coast hyperloop route. They began with a brief, engaging definition of hyperloop: “Would you pay to climb inside a little pod with no windows to be shot from New York to D.C. at more than 700 miles an hour? It’s called hyperloop, and it might be built between New York City and Washington D.C.”

Screenshots from a "Stay Tuned" broadcast on July 21.

Snapchat; NBC News

It avoids punditry.

Stay Tuned has condensed news segments. Even if the commonly-held belief that attention spans are shortening isn’t really accurate. It’s true that we’re growing more used to multi-tasking taking in information quickly.

The drawback, of course, is that short broadcasts can run into the problem of reducing news meaningless sound-bytes. On Saturday, July 22, Stay Tuned began a segment with the bland, obtuse statement, “Things are getting tense in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians,” and continued with the truism that an escalation of violence would be bad. Any news outlet on Snapchat will have to ensure it doesn’t reduce complicated issues to platitudes.

Screenshots from "Stay Tuned" broadcasts on July 21.

Snapchat; NBC News

It’s visually fresh.

To keep viewers engaged, NBC News makes Stay Tuned incredibly visually stimulating. The hosts, Gadi Schwartz and Savannah Sellers, are filmed in vertical frames, and horizontal images are stacked on top of each other so that the screen is always full. Videos and moving graphics are used more frequently than photos.

It goes for an approachable vibe.

Schwartz and Sellers are both young, dress in fashionable, business-casual attire, and sport today’s ubiquitous wide-rimmed hipster glasses. They avoid technical jargon and make a point of directly addressing viewers: “Would you have a microchip implanted in your body?” and “I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go full-on cyborg yet.”

While the broadcasts make sure to cover the most important breaking news, they also generally include at least one story that isn’t grave, like a scientific explanation of why dogs love their owners. In this way, it’s exactly like traditional TV newscasts, tacking a human interest story onto a slate of hard news.

Stay Tuned is likely a hint of what’s coming for not only Snapchat, but also its biggest rival, Facebook, and the rest of the industry: video.

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