Poo-pooing innovators who strive to shatter entertainment boundaries and discover new ways of delivering content is a typically petty exercise. Without their efforts we wouldn’t enjoy technologies we take for granted today, like DVR and streaming. But sometimes caution tape exists for a reason. Zooming past a “ROAD CLOSED - BRIDGE OUT!” sign at 90 miles per hour can only end disastrously.
The news from Variety that AT&T will team with Snapchat to deliver a scripted superhero series starring social media personalities falls squarely into the “Bro, this ‘PIRHANA INVESTED WATER’ warning is just to keep pussies out of the swimming hole” category. The concept alone is enough to leave forehead-sized dents in offices across the country. But the details contain so much more insanity that a line-by-line examination of the Variety piece is the only way to truly do the decision justice.
“AT&T is moving from @SummerBreak to Snapchat.”
If that sentence makes little sense to you, you must not be from the generation AT&T will seek when it launches SnapperHero, a scripted series made just for consumers who are increasingly turning to mobile-based media to gain access to information and entertainment.
I’m 32 years old. Like most functioning humans, I use mobile-based media to access information and have done so daily for the last four or five years. New scripted series interest me. I should be a prime target for this new venture. Yet I remain skeptical. Let’s learn more.
SnapperHero will center on a superhero premise and will feature influential social-media personae in its cast. To create the program, AT&T has selected people with big followings on social-media outlets like YouTube, Snapchat and Vine, and will have them ask their audiences to make choices that will shape the way SnapperHero plays out - like character powers and origins, according to Billy Parks, producer of the series.
Turns out instincts exist for a reason. I’d rather watch a McG-directed reboot of an ISIS beheading video than see what happens when Twitter eggs direct twerking legends and the Charlie Bit Me kid in a series funded by a monopolistic communications conglomerate. AT&T is really going to let 14 year olds influence plot and characterization? Can’t wait for episode one: “A freak cellphone charging accident gave Emo G, a moping, makeup-adorned struggle rapper, the ability to assume the form of any emoji. Will he keep it 100 emoji or poop emoji himself when he squares off against Filters, a freelance photographer who can make her enemies see the world through any lens she chooses?”
“A lot of it will be built on suggestions that are generated from the fans, and this is how we will build the audience for the show,” said Parks, who supervised the production of @SummerBreak, a mobile series backed by AT&T and Chernin Group that played out on Twitter, Tumblr and other social-media outlets.
Billy Parks is building a hell of an IMDB profile for himself. First he produces a show co-financed by a media holding company and named after a Twitter handle, and now he’s spearheading a crowdsourced superhero series airing on Snapchat? BILLY PARKS IS THE DAVID O. SELZNICK OF INSTANTLY DISPOSABLE MULTI-PLATFORM DIGITAL CONTENT!!!
And there’s a twist that is unique to the outlet. Like most videos made available for public consumption on Snapchat, episodes of SnapperHero will only be available for 24 hours, and then they will be gone. “There is a little bit more of a sense of urgency to watch these episodes,” said Sam Gorski, one of the directors of the series. Viewers will have no DVR or video-on-demand to turn to once a piece expires.
HOLY SHIT THEY LANDED GORSKI, TOO!?! WHAT A COUP! ADD-addled millennials will have 24 hours to watch an episode before it vanishes into the ether. Brilliant strategy in an era with 352 scripted primetime television series. Pretty shitty message to send about the content’s value, too: these episodes are so disposable that we’ll literally throw them away after a day. Unrefrigerated Chinese food has a longer shelf life.
“It’s like a slice of cake. You eat it, and it’s really delicious, and then it’s gone,” said Shaun McBride, a popular Snapchat artist also known as “Shonduras” who will serve as a member of the cast and as creative director on the show.
Cake is delicious. It’s also a sugar-laden diabetes bomb that destroys your body and contributes to premature death. Feel like that’s the more accurate simile in this case, Honduran Shonda Rhimes.
“What we are most excited about is that connection between creator and fan, and that phenomenon of call and response,” said Liz Nixon, engagement director for AT&T. The telecom company will sponsor various ways of watching SnapperHero content, she said, and is likely to weave its products into the programming.
Assume this means Emo G’s team is eradicated when terrible cell reception leaves them unable to call for backup, and Filters becomes homeless by episode three thanks to a phone bill she was told would be $45 a month winds up being $450.
AT&T said @SummerBreak over two seasons earned more than 60 million views - 15.3 million views in its first season and 49.08 million views in its second season, and 30 million social engagements and 1.6 billion impressions. Parks and Nixon said the company was still contemplating a third season of the series.
Ah, sponsor-provided viewership data, the most objective of all metrics. I’m not insinuating that these are bogus numbers. Just that this data is best garnished with a freight train’s worth of Morton Salt. For instance, if 49 million people watched a webseries (more people than watched the entire fourth season of Girls even when accounting for all platforms) and a third season is only under consideration, something’s off. As for impressions, well, even though it’s been a minute since I worked in PR, impressions remain Madison Avenue’s version of “stadium attendance” figures. It works like this: if you run an ad in a magazine that has a subscriber base of 2 million, it’s assumed that 2 million people saw your ad, hence, 2 million impressions. Pretty easy to recognize the holes in that calculation, especially when digital sources come into play.
Tweetable version of that last paragraph: if you’re still reading this post, congrats: you’re now a @SummerBreak impression.
The stars of the new series will include: Anna Akana, a Japanese-American filmmaker known for the short films she creates on her YouTube channel; Freddie Wong, known for his work with the YouTube channel RocketJump; Harley Morenstein, host of the YouTube cooking show Epic Meal Time; and Jasmeet Singh, a comedian known as “JusReign” with a large social-media following.
Isn’t this the same murderer’s row cast Soderbergh used for his Oceans 11 remake?
Let’s check out JusReign’s latest hilarious bit:
Viewers should not expect to see a weighty series like NBC’s Heroes or ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., said Parks. “The tone of the show is fundamentally comedic and light: What happens to these real-life influencers if powers are bestowed upon them,” he said. “We are not trying to be a big-budget action show.”
Phew. For a minute there I was concerned that a series airing on an app designed to send nude selfies would include rich characterization, multifaceted interwoven plots and detailed examinations of pressing social issues. Also, you know you’re breathing recycled swamp gas when Heroes and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are considered complex operatic television.
Indeed, one of the cast members will find themselves the beneficiary of a very odd talent, said Pueringer: being made left-handed.
Hey, I’m left handed! That sure is an “odd talent.” Do you want to see my superpowers?