BuzzFeed reveals plans to become the next Netflix
James R | On 15, Apr 2015
When you hear the word “BuzzFeed”, what do you think of? Listicles? Cat GIFs collated from other sites? Which-X-are-you quizzes? When you hear the word “Netflix”, what do you think of? House of Cards?
Both brands have enjoyed huge online success in recent years, but there is a gulf between them: one is known for its curation of existing web content and the other for its production of original shows.
Netflix, of course, did not start out as a TV production company: since House of Cards launched two years ago, it has built up its brand through original shows and films, a move that has positioned the company at the head of the VOD pack – and inspired similar strategies from Amazon, Yahoo and even games console platforms.
Now, BuzzFeed has announced its own plans to try and do the same. The company already has its own Motion Pictures Division.
“We’ve made over 3,000 videos in the last two years, we make over 50 a week right now and we do a billion views a month,” said its president, Ze Frank, in a keynote interview at MIPTV in Cannes.
He acknowledged, though, that the perception of the site’s output would need to shift: “If your friends are sharing a lot of silly stuff with you that’s how you’re going to think of BuzzFeed’s content.”
The site has already adopted a Funny Or Die-style approach to its online videos, producing short-form comedy and publishing it on YouTube. But the ultimate aim is to look at long-form production for TV and even cinema.
For Frank, the short videos are the starting point: “We can do shorts to test casting: can they handle dialogue, can they handle arguments? And our scripting lab is constantly thinking about that in a character-first way, in terms of developing this stuff.
“The way short-form content can move in such a frictionless way around the web, that’s a fantastic way to build affinity with shows and characters. And that affinity will translate over to larger stuff.”
Where will BuzzFeed’s character-driven movies and TV shows appear? That is not yet decided: the company may even release them for free.
“There are three things that can come back,” he said, of getting a return on content. “One is money, one is data and one is strategic relationships. And ideally we want all three,” he said.
“Everything is on the table from the idea of free to the idea of windowed exclusive to giving it to the box office and letting them keep 100% of receipts, and treating it as marketing.”
The notion of a BuzzFeed title at the box office may seem bizarre, but with both Netflix and Amazon lining up their own theatrical releases, it is not outside the realms of possibility. The company has already hired veteran producer Michael Shamberg (Django Unchained, Garden State, Pulp Fiction) as adviser.
“There’s no R&D system in Hollywood: no studio makes a movie to see if they want to make a better movie,” he added, describing BuzzFeed as a “big R&D lab”.
“The studios don’t have the capacity to innovate at all, because the amount of capital is so large, and they move so slowly.”
Would BuzzFeed’s fans follow them to longer content? “Everyone’s watching long-form,” commented Shamberg. “It’s called Netflix.”
“We’re going to migrate from what BuzzFeed does to the system that’s already there,” he said. “We just need to bring something fresh to it.”
Until then, of course, there are always listicles and cat GIFs to keep audiences going.