With Nick Bell out, publishers lose a longtime Snapchat ally

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Nick Bell
Nick Bell Credit: Snapchat

Nick Bell, Snapchat's media matchmaker, is leaving the company, a departure that will be felt throughout the publishing world that worked closely with the executive. Bell was one of the early members of Snapchat's team of rising stars, joining the company five years ago when it needed to develop a new business model for media on mobile devices.

Bell was the vice president of content at Snapchat, but more than the title he was the face of the company for the publishers and studios that wanted to create inside the app. Bell was seen as one of CEO Evan Spiegel's top lieutenants, and able to advocate for media partners trying to tap into Snapchat's young audience.

Snapchat has been reshuffling its decks of late, and just lost Imran Khan as chief strategy officer. Khan left officially this month, and is set to launch his own mobile e-commerce venture.

Bell's resignation came as a surprise to at least one publishing partner, who has worked closely with Snapchat since the founding of its media section called Discover. "This is a big loss," said the publishing executive, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Someone like Imran, he was good, but not necessarily foundational. Nick has been there since the beginning."

Snapchat has struggled since it went public last year, failing to excite Wall Street investors. Last quarter, it grew ad sales a respectable 43 percent year over year to $298 million, but users have started to drop off. It now has 186 million daily active users, compared to 188 million the quarter prior. At the same time, competition is only growing with rivals like Facebook and Google building similar offerings, where creators can post vertical videos filmed specifically for mobile phones.

Bell helped pioneer the vertical video aesthetic, and was influential in getting media companies to even think about mobile content in that orientation. Under his watch, Snapchat developed Discover, a platform for media partners like Hearst, Vice, ESPN, The New York Times, NBC Universal, 21st Century Fox and Condé Nast.

Bell also helped lead Snapchat into scheduled shows, produced by TV networks and digital publishers. Snapchat also recently got into its own original shows.

These media ventures have been one of Snapchat's most important paths to ad revenue, by selling advertisers on the professional content from the premium publishers. Snapchat splits ad sales with the partners.

However, Discover and shows have not proved to be sustainable for a lot of partners, according to the publishing executive who has worked with Snapchat. "Publishers are making money, just not enough of it," the partner said. "It's not enough to recoup the investment."

There have been clear struggles of late on Bell's side of the business. Two of the biggest partners, Hearst and Condé Nast, have retrenched from earlier aggressive forays into Snapchat. Condé recently shut down GQ, Wired and Vogue channels on Discover, but is continuing to invest in others like Teen Vogue and Self. Hearst recently shut down a daily Discover channel it developed specifically for Snapchat, called Sweet, and it plans to focus more on video on the platform.

Snapchat still has Sean Mills, head of original content, and David Brinker, head of business development on the content side, to work with publishers, TV networks and brands. Jared Grusd replaced Khan as chief strategy officer.

"We are so grateful for Nick and everything he has built at Snap," Spiegel said in an e-mail announcement. "It has been an incredible journey that began with our vision for what content could be on mobile."

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