Snapchat is promising $750,000 to its top augmented reality stars in 2020, triple its commitment from this year. This pot of cash shows how the company wants to build the future of its high-tech platform on the creativity of these next-generation influencers.
Snapchat executives announced the financial support at its annual Lens Fest, named for the virtual Lenses popularized on the app. Last month, Snapchat brought more than 100 Lens makers to its headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., for Lens Fest, which featured appearances by CEO Evan Spiegel, and Bobby Murphy, chief technology officer and co-founder. The number of creators in attendance more than doubled from last year, according to a Snapchat spokeswoman.
“With a bigger fund, maybe we can do more,” says Frank Shi, director of Paper Triangles, a boutique digital agency, who attended LensFest. “There are more opportunities for collaborative projects and pitching Snapchat more interesting ideas they might bite on.”
Coinciding with Lens Fest, Snapchat also started selling Spectacles 3, the third version of the digital video glasses that are now open to Lens creators for the first time. The glasses cost $380, and they shoot video using 3D technology that is designed for adding augmented reality effects. (Augmented reality blends the virtual with the real world.) Augmented reality filters, applied to videos, can showcase products, allowing people to try on virtual lipstick or demonstrate special effects from a blockbuster movie, for example.
The glasses do not project augmented reality as the user wears them, but that is the ultimate goal, according to Snapchat Lens makers. “There’s no AR in the glasses yet, but it’s definitely moving in that direction,” says Clay Weishaar, a prominent Snapchat Lens creator, who attended Lens Fest.
With the new glasses-based creative tools and a growing community of Lens makers, Snapchat is looking to emphasize its augmented reality advantage against powerful rivals like Facebook, which owns Instagram, and Google, which owns YouTube, while staving off challengers like TikTok. The rival platforms are all investing in augmented reality with similar tools for third-party developers, but Snapchat is widely considered to have the most advanced AR technology.
Meanwhile, well-heeled tech giants like Apple and Microsoft are developing glasses hardware that compete with Spectacles. The technology is a potential gold mine in the future of entertainment and advertising, even if glasses have yet to captivate mainstream consumers. Google notoriously stumbled with Google Glass when it introduced the internet-enabled eyewear in 2013. Snapchat had to take a $40 million loss in 2017 after its first-generation Spectacles flopped. Still, Silicon Valley visionaries like Spiegel and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have promoted the potential for augmented reality headsets and other gear to transform how people interact with the world.
Meanwhile, brands have been incorporating Lenses into ad campaigns on Snapchat since 2016, when it generated $400 million in ad revenue. Snapchat’s ad revenue is expected to hit at least $1.6 billion in 2019, according to the company’s latest forecast. Snapchat also has 210 million daily active users, and 70 percent of them interact with Lenses on a daily basis, according to the company.
Snapchat has taken a unique approach to celebrity, attempting to elevate the AR influencer. The company is encouraging Lens creators to put more storytelling behind their creations, similar to how Cyrene Quiamco, aka CyreneQ, has created augmented reality characters that appear in her Snapchat videos.
“Snapchat is taking a little bit of a risk,” Weishaar says. “AR creators are not traditional storytellers.”
Brands also participated in Lens Fest. Kanye West’s studio Def Jam, which is owned by Universal Music Group, and The CW, canvassed Lens makers for upcoming projects, according to creators who were in attendance.
“A lot of people in the group want that introduction to brands and they want to do brand work outside the daily Lenses they create themselves,” says Michael Nicoll, founder and creative director of Blnk, a digital agency, who also attended Lens Fest.
The starting rate for creating a Lens for a brand is typically $10,000, according to Weishaar, but the price varies depending on how often the Lens gets shared and how many people see it, among other factors. Brands can also pay to sponsor a Lens ad on Snapchat, so it appears prominently when users scroll through the carousel of available augmented reality effects. Under that model, brands are paying the creators for the advertising asset, the Lens, and paying Snapchat for the promotion.
Those kinds of sponsorship opportunities set Snapchat apart from Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, which maintain tighter control over the augmented reality ecosystem. Facebook only opened augmented reality creation to all developers and brands in August, so creators can now build the filters but they can’t easily promote them.
Snapchat paid $250,000 to Lens makers in 2019, but is ready to spend $750,000 in 2020, according to creators. A Snapchat spokeswoman confirmed this figure.
Besides better money, the Snapchat Lens community appears to be getting stronger in other ways. Many members of the community cross-promote each other’s Lenses and trade tips on how to develop and use the technology.
There have been 600,000 Lenses created by Snapchat creators, according to the company, and people have played with those Lenses more than 15 billion times.