How media companies are creating episodic series for Instagram Stories

How media companies are creating episodic series for Instagram Stories

At the same time as Facebook and Snapchat are stocking up on original shows, media companies are independently producing episodic series for Facebook-owned Instagram. Within a week of Instagram launching Stories in August 2016, Bustle premiered what would become the first of seven episodic series it currently produces for the ephemeral format where each slide, or post, within a Story evaporates after 24 hours. New Form Digital opted to air the pilot in May 2017 on Instagram, through Instant’s account, because of the sizeable audience already established there. “People aren’t going to take the thumb off the screen,” said Grace. WeBuyGold used people’s predilection to click to its advantage when producing Stories to supplement its animated show, “The Year 2100.” The show was primarily distributed through traditional, or main-feed, Instagram posts because WeBuyGold didn’t think airing episodes “just on Stories” would help to grow its audience, according to CEO Dan Altmann. “If you want to just move [the plot] forward, then you can watch the post. “I think they help remind the viewers it’s a new episode, and also it’s a good way to cap the series.” New Form Digital also developed a strategy to ensure its show would stand out in viewers’ Story feeds. While it designed the pilot episode of “@TheRealAssistant” for people to tap through, it needed to make sure people wouldn’t tap too quickly through the opening slide to miss the point of the show and swipe past it altogether. “One thing we thought a lot about was the opening and how we would catch people’s eyes and what the hook would be. To promote this year’s “MTV Movie and TV Awards” in May, Bustle aired an episode of “The Reel Deal” on the same day as the awards show that was labeled as “presented by” the MTV event and had the show’s host pick award winners.

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At the same time as Facebook and Snapchat are stocking up on original shows, media companies are independently producing episodic series for Facebook-owned Instagram.

Sometime last year, Bustle Editor in Chief Kate Ward saw a tweet from someone asking whether watching Snapchat Stories had replaced TV as a before-bed ritual for anyone else.

“It kind of got us thinking about the experience of Snapchat Stories and eventually Instagram Stories, where it’s just a place where you share something with your friends but also a place where you can really program something and take advantage of the platform itself to come up with these fun, little, brief storytelling elements,” said Ward.

Within a week of Instagram launching Stories in August 2016, Bustle premiered what would become the first of seven episodic series it currently produces for the ephemeral format where each slide, or post, within a Story evaporates after 24 hours. And it’s not the only media company to see Instagram Stories as an outlet for TV-like programming.

New Form Digital, a production studio backed by Hollywood heavyweights Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, also saw Stories as an opportunity to produce a new type of entertainment for audiences whose attentions were focused on their phones. But initially, New Form Digital had its eye on the other original Stories.

“We honestly were thinking about Snap, but then Insta Stories launched and we were like, ‘Oh, we can put it here, and this is a little different, and there’s an engaged audience,’” said New Form Digital CEO Kathleen Grace. “But the initial instinct was let’s experiment and make something for Snap.”

Instead, New Form Digital made something for Instagram. Through a deal with Time Inc.’s Instant, it produced a pilot episode of “@TheRealAssistant,” a scripted comedy centered on the personal assistant to a social media diva. New Form Digital opted to air the pilot in May 2017 on Instagram, through Instant’s account, because of the sizeable audience already established there.

Programming that fits the format

But producing a show for Instagram Stories’s vertical-only format isn’t as easy as filming a series for TV or YouTube and cutting off the sides. That would look terrible, like watching a Christopher Nolan movie squared to standard definition. Stories’ vertical format may be an imposition, but it also forces creativity.

“It opens up this whole new visual language that the audience accepts,” said Grace. “You can have your wide shot on top of the split screen and your close-up in the bottom of the split screen and use that to drive the story and the comedy.”

Another curveball is the way that Stories must be cut up. The only way to upload a minutes-long video to a Story is to edit it into 15-second chunks that are posted piecemeal. As a result, Bustle’s shows average three to four minutes in length but appear as 15 to 20 slides, said its deputy editor of social, Hayley Saltzman.

People can tap through slides in Stories pretty easily, which is also something producers have to consider for their shows. “People aren’t going to take the thumb off the screen,” said Grace.

Therefore, each slide in a Story has to work as a scene, and a quick one. But that quickness can’t compromise the plot, so New Form Digital used tricks like the split-screen to compound the narrative. “Because people are clicking through the pieces, it makes you have to tell a story faster. You have to get the information out a lot more quickly. So the split screen gives you that efficiency and allows potentially for a joke within a joke,” Grace said. The studio also front-loaded the first few seconds of each slide so that a person could tap through and…

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