Snap Launches Bitmoji TV, Starring Your Friends — and Randy Jackson

Snap Inc. is launching itself anew into the short-form videosphere in 2020 with Bitmoji TV, upping its popular avatar feature to present personalized live-action comic strips of you and your friends. A spokesperson says Thursday that their global release will start in February; it's an effort that may help Snap counter the surging use of TikTok, especially among Gen Z users.


The Santa Monica-based company launched its precursor Bitmoji Stories, which included personalized stories of you and your friends in November 2018. Snap said it found that the stories were a hit, with more than 130 million users watching them since their debut, that they decided TV was the next big thing.

It remains to be seen whether people will want to see themselves cast in "every show, movie, and commercial," as Snap describes it in their advertising. But a University of Texas at Austin study indicates this is likely. The study found that human beings crave personalization and were more likely to interact with content customized for them rather than a standard experience.

After all, the short-form video featuring one's self is having its moment, with China-owned TikTok app users moving into houses in Los Angeles to specifically create content. Meanwhile, users have also taken to Facebook and Instagram to post their own stories. But Snap is betting that personalized short-form video content that you can't find anywhere else will drive users to Bitmoji TV.

Screenshot courtesy of Tami Abdollah

Each season will be made up of 10 episodes averaging roughly four minutes in length, that air weekly on Saturday via the app's "Discover" page. Snap selects you and the friends you've most recently interacted with on Snapchat and features them in television episodes. Snap has also arranged to have Randy Jackson guest star in a reality show-themed episode. Other comics will be heard in the first season, including Andy Richter, Jon Lovitz, and Riki Lindhome.

Bitmoji TV was created entirely in-house by the same Toronto-based team that's behind Bitmoji and its stories. Characters in Bitmoji TV talk, but a Snap spokesperson notes that you won't see yourself talking because the engineers haven't yet figured out how to capture the user's voice.

A spokesperson said the self-described camera company wants to be a leader in mobile storytelling, and envisions having a person's Bitmoji represent themselves digitally across more experiences in the future.

Snap's stock price has rebounded in the last 12 months, from a 52-week low of $6.31 to a high of $19.76.

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It's almost 90 degrees outside in Los Angeles as lines of cars pull up to Dodger Stadium, home to a mass vaccination site that opened Friday.

"Please make sure that they're not under the sun in the cart," Edith Mirzaian is telling a volunteer as she directs the person to put ice packs on coolers that hold up to 20 COVID vaccines. Mirzaian is a USC associate professor of clinical pharmacy and an operational lead at one of California's largest vaccination sites.

Dodger Stadium alone — once the nation's largest COVID-19 testing site — is slated to vaccine up to 12,000 people each day, county and city health officials said this week. Officials plan to finish vaccinating some 500,000 health care and assisted care employees by the end of this month before opening appointments up to people 65 and older.

Mirzaian is desperately trying to make sure that the vaccines don't spoil.

"We have to be the guardians of the vaccine," she said.

Earlier this month, hundreds of vaccinations were lost after a refrigerator went out in Northern California, forcing the hospital to rush to give out hundreds of doses. Mirzaian's task tells a larger story of the difficult and often daunting logistical process required to roll out a vaccine that requires cold temperatures.

"You know they can't be warm so just keep an eye out," she gently reminds the volunteer.

The volunteers and staff from USC, the Los Angeles Fire Department and Core Laboratories prepared enough doses to vaccinate around 2,000 residents on Friday and they plan to increase capacity each day after.

Local health officials are holding the vaccination syringes in coolers after they leave the air-conditioned trailers. The coolers are then covered in ice packs and wheeled on carts to clinicians administering shots to health care workers and nursing home staff eligible under the state's vaccination plan.

"Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible," said mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement announcing the plan.

Health officials around the world are racing against time as the virus mutates and poses greater dangers.

"We have a little bit of borrowed time here right now because these variants are not here in great numbers from what we can tell," said Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor in clinical pathology at USC's Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Curbing the spread of the virus is a vital way to prevent mutant strains from developing, she said.

Mirzaian, who arrived at the site before it opened at 8 a.m., said that there were logistical challenges as volunteers scrambled to assemble what will likely be the hub of the region's vaccination efforts.

"It's challenging to make sure that everyone knows what the process is and what we're doing and what to tell the patients who receive the vaccines."

After a few hours, the procedure moved quicker.

Residents have to show identification and proof of employment before they're taken through a list of pre-screening questions and given the vaccine through their car window. They're required to then wait for 15 minutes while clinicians monitor them for side effects.

Mirzaian said the process took each car about an hour. While eligible residents can walk-in for vaccinations, she recommends they make appointments so that enough doses are made available each day.

"As long as people have their appointments, they will get in," she said. "We are ready. We are like an army ready to give vaccines."

Snap promoted executive Ben Schwerin to be its new senior vice president of content and partnerships, as the company seeks to grow its content business to challenge rival TikTok.

As part of the reorganization, Chief Strategy Officer Jared Grusd, who previously oversaw content, will become a strategic advisor to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.

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As a casting director, Lacey Kaelani has a leading view on Hollywood's content pipeline. Based on what she's been seeing on her venture-backed casting platform, Casting Depot, prepare for a deluge of unscripted shows.

"It's all gonna be handheld videos where everything looks like a Zoom call," she said. "Dating shows, talk shows, food competition shows – that's what was cast and is going into production."

The Casting Depot launched its latest beta version on Friday, with a "six-figure" investment from global venture capital firm Antler. Its board includes leaders from companies including CAA, Airtime, iHeartMedia, WorkMarket and IAC.

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