How Snibble plans to break through in the shadow of the digital duopoly

In the next month or so, Andy Shortt and Blair Currie plan to launch Snibble, a made-in-Canada attempt to create an alternative to digital advertising’s Goliaths.

They don’t think they’re competing against Google and Facebook so much as producing a different kind of product—”snackable” premium content—that is specifically tailored to the consumption habits of younger consumers and the advertisers who want to reach them.

“It’s a highlight platform for the highlight generation,” said Shortt, a former creative director at agencies including HQvB and Dentsu. Currie also started in advertising in Canada before assuming a series of increasingly senior global roles, culminating in CEO of Aegis Media for North Asia.

The Message talked with the pair earlier this week about their vision for Snibble. They are currently in sales mode, while at the same time putting the finishing touches on the platform and finalizing deals with content providers and, soon, advertisers.

On why they think it will succeed

“Forbes says mobile video will account for over 80% of all digital traffic by the end of 2019,” said Shortt. “The average Gen Z watches three hours of video on their phone each day, averaging around 70 videos.” These might seem like familiar consumer trend observations to many in media and marketing, but the trend that most either haven’t seen or acted on yet is the kind of content these young people want, said Shortt.

“There’s a huge movement among the almighty Gen Z and younger millennials back towards quality content,” he said. Snibble focuses purely on premium short-form video that is three minutes or less—news clips, sports highlights, music videos, movie trailers, fashion news, cooking videos, game reviews. “It also just happens to solve the biggest problem that advertisers globally have with digital advertising, which is brand safety.”

On how they plan to break through against the giants

First, they believe the user experience is different and better. In particular, the ad load on big digital has become unbearable, said Shortt. “There are ads before, ads during, ads after, ads that pop up. It’s actually worse than traditional television,” he said. Shortt and Currie say they don’t want to “over-monetize” the experience. In their estimation, the “fair value exchange” is one six-second non-skippable ad for whatever content the user wants.

“We want to treat people as customers, not as products,” said Currie. “They’re not there to be monetized, they’re there to enjoy the content and for a little bit of time—and if they’re decent ads—they’ll go for it. It’s a pretty good fair trade; six seconds isn’t a lot.”

On how they know marketers are looking for something different

Basically their argument is that YouTube and Facebook may have already peaked with young consumers. Aside from that, they believe marketers will be willing to sacrifice the scale of the giants for the brand safety and better returns of premium content.

“We’re not going to put eight ads on every video,” said Shortt. Ads shown on their own in premium context have higher recall and are more effective, which means higher ROI. “Then you get much higher much higher CPMs for that.”

On where the content is coming from

To start, it’s through deals with third party providers—including Vemba and VeuHub in Canada and Ireland-based VideoElephant.*

“We’ll be launching with somewhere in the neighbourhood of two to three million videos, with 30,000 to 40,000 new videos each week,” said Shortt. “All premium videos from major brands from Canada, U.S. and Europe.”

On why they’re not going direct to producers

“We’re getting more and more interest from publishers and broadcasters,” said Currie, who acknowledges that getting their foot in the door proved difficult, even with Canadian producers. Recent deals to create a content foundation have led to more interest. “We’re starting to get some traction,” he said. “This is a bit of a Canadian thing. Not many Canadian companies want to be first, but everybody wants to be a close second.”

On why influencer and “creator” content doesn’t count as premium

“Some of it is, most of it is not,” said Shortt. Mainly because so much of what they produce isn’t as marketer friendly as Snibble requires. “Certainly within the gaming community, very few of the major known celebrity gamers and influencers are what we would call brand safe,” said Short. “They swear an awful lot.”

A growing number of creators and influencers are making high-quality content within categories like lifestyle, fashion and food, but adding them to Snibble would be on a case-by-case basis, said Shortt. “[That way] we can guarantee our advertisers they are in a 100% brand safe environment.”

On why they’re not subscription-based

Blair Currie and Andy Shortt.

“There’s just too many subscription services out there,” said Shortt. “As ad guys, as people who came up through and love the ad business, we believe in advertising… and I think it’s been proven. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok… every other platform out there right now is going to [an ad-supported model] and there’s a reason for that.

While The Message pointed out that those aren’t really premium content providers, and that people have demonstrated a willingness to pay for truly premium content, Shortt said that is mostly applicable to long-term content. “This is a platform for people on the go… Gen Z would rather watch the highlights of the game then sit down and watch the whole game. They’d much rather watch a clip of the news than the whole nightly news. They really are what we call the highlight generation.”

Being “ad guys” is beneficial in another way, said Shortt. “We’re not tech guys,” he said. The digital platforms were created by tech people who built really big audiences just because they could, and then investors came looking for a return on their investments. “So they started slapping ads everywhere,” he said.

“We’ve spent our careers creating connections with content between people and brands. We spent our whole careers doing this, and we’re pretty good at it.”

*This story has been updated.


David Brown