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Screen shot of Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel speaking at Snaphcat Partner Summit on April 4th in Santa Monica

A slew of new updates, features and projects unveiled by Snap Inc. Thursday capture the Santa Monica-based "camera company" in mid-evolution, from a chat platform to a broker of value-added services modeled on China's tech giants.

Why it matters: Snap has faced investor skepticism that its media model of youth-oriented ephemeral photo and video sharing can support an ad business on the scale of Google's or Facebook's. The announcements at the first-ever Snapchat Partner Summit show that Snap intends both to keep growing its ad revenue while building revenue-generating services that users can access across apps and activities to increase engagement with Snap's products.

The details: Snap announced it will launch the Snap Audience Network, which will allow other companies to run "Snap ads" inside their own apps. Snap will allow advertisers to sell ads through its technology, while keeping a cut of the ad revenue.

  • This is a big deal because it would enable Snap to dramatically expand its ad revenue to compete with the likes of Google and Facebook, which have their own ad networks.
  • Yes, but: It's not set to launch for several months, and details of the ad targeting's workings were scant, as Recode's Kurt Wagner notes.

Snap also announced major updates for developers and its camera, and rolled out a new gaming platform as well as a slate of original shows.

  • Camera updates: Snap said it is updating its augmented reality (AR) studio, called the Lens Studio, to include more capabilities for users to create AR videos. It also introduced new camera search capabilities for users to search for items that they point at with their Snapchat camera. (Snapchat added camera search for Amazon products last year.)
  • Snap Kit (developer platform) updates: Snapchat announced new capabilities and partnerships within its Snap Kit, including the ability for Snapchat users to create "Stories" (strings of pictures and videos) that can be sent to other apps, like Tinder.
  • It is also making it possible for users to use Snapchat "Bitmojis" (cartoon avatars) in other apps, like Fitbit. And it's allowing outside developers from popular apps, like Netflix and VSCO, to design and build custom Snap filters and links that can be shared from their own apps into Snapchat for users to send to their friends.

Originals and content: As Axios previously reported, Snapchat debuted a new slate of original programming and announced the renewal of several shows. It said it would launch a new daily afternoon news show with Buzzfeed.

Snap Games: Snapchat introduced a brand new gaming platform called "Snap Games" that, beginning Thursday, will allow users to play real-time, multiplayer games with their friends.

  • Snapchat announced a slew of new original and third-party games from big gaming developers like Game Closure, PikPok, Spry Fox, Zeptolab, and Zynga. It said it is launching a new ad experience in games so all that "our (developer) partners can see monetization from day one."
  • Sources say the company is hopeful that gaming could provide Snapchat with an opportunity to take a cut of in-game purchases in the future.

Be smart: Tencent, one of China's biggest gaming companies, purchased a 10% stake in the company in 2017, which sources say have helped guide Snapchat's foray into gaming.

The big picture: The event comes just days after Apple announced a suite of new software services, including a new gaming platform, and after Google unveiled its new cloud gaming service, Stadia.

The bottom line: Tech giants are rushing to create better software to increase user engagement with their software and to make money off of things like payments, advertising and storage.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
26 mins ago - Economy & Business

First glimpse of the Biden market

Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images

Investors made clear what companies they think will be winners and which will be losers in President Joe Biden's economy on Wednesday, selling out of gun makers, pot purveyors, private prison operators and payday lenders, and buying up gambling, gaming, beer stocks and Big Tech.

What happened: Private prison operator CoreCivic and private prison REIT Geo fell by 7.8% and 4.1%, respectively, while marijuana ETF MJ dropped 2% and payday lenders World Acceptance and EZCorp each fell by more than 1%.

Mike Allen, author of AM
57 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden-Harris, Day 1: What mattered most

President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden arrive at the North Portico of the White House. Photo: Alex Brandon-Pool/Getty Images

The Axios experts help you sort significance from symbolism. Here are the six Day 1 actions by President Biden that matter most.

Driving the news: Today, on his first full day, Biden translates his promise of a stronger federal response to the pandemic into action — starting with 10 executive orders and other directives, Caitlin Owens writes.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Read: Pete Buttigieg's opening statement ahead of confirmation hearing

Pete Buttigieg, President Biden's nominee to be secretary of transportation, in December. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/AFP via Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg, President Biden's nominee to lead the Transportation Department, will tell senators he plans to prioritize the health and safety of public transportation systems during the pandemic — and look to infrastructure projects to rebuild the economy — according to a copy of his prepared remarks obtained by Axios.

Driving the news: Buttigieg will testify at 10 a.m. ET before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. He is expected to face a relatively smooth confirmation process, though GOP lawmakers may press him on "green" elements of Biden's transportation proposals.