How illusionist David Blaine helped inspire Snapchat’s Live Stories

Snapchat covers live events such as music festivals by compiling user-captured video posts.

Snapchat covers live events such as music festivals by compiling user-captured video posts.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

How does illusionist David Blaine perform his tricks? That question helped influence one of Snapchat’s most popular features, known as Live Stories.

The start-up’s head of content, Nick Bell, talked about the inspiration for Live Stories on stage Wednesday, speaking alongside executives from Facebook and GoPro at the Variety Entertainment and Technology Summit.

Blaine visited Snapchat headquarters in Venice in spring 2014, Bell recounted. The company’s then-40 employees gathered around the illusionist, each posting clips of his act to their Snapchat accounts. When Bell watched his colleagues’ videos, he thought maybe he could understand Blaine’s magic through the combination of angles.


Bell didn’t say whether he ever did. But a few weeks later, Snapchat was compiling clips from users at a Las Vegas music festival into a single video viewable to all users. So began Live Stories, specially highlighted videos on Snapchat created through user-generated clips from a common locale.

“These are great ways for our community to tell a story,” Bell said.

Snapchat runs lucrative, 10-second video ads throughout these videos.

At the summit, Bell was asked about Snapchat’s latest revenue generator: charging users of its disappearing-message service 99 cents to watch videos again before they vanish.

He demurred, but did talk generally about ad strategy.

Advertisers can buy spots “that feels natural but doesn’t blur the line between advertising and content,” he said. “We do have church-and-state mentality at Snapchat when it comes to advertising and content.”

Bell also oversees Snapchat Discover, a section on the app that features videos and articles from publishers such as ESPN and Comedy Central. He said he expects more brands to shift to producing content specifically for Snapchat, as recently added publisher Tastemade has committed to.

The online food-and-travel content studio worked with Snapchat for six months before launching on Discover to determine what content would click best with mobile viewers, Bell said.

Content that fits the distribution app is key “to build strong rapport with their users so that they could build strong commercial relationships” with them eventually, he said.

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