News & Analysis

Does BuzzFeed’s $50 million capital raise mean an end to journalism?

- August 12, 2014 4 MIN READ

Recently, it’s been announced that BuzzFeed has closed an additional US$50 million in funding yesterday, pushing the company’s valuation to US$850 million dollars, according to The New York Times.

In conjunction with the release of the announcement came a landslide of social media critique, announcing the end of journalism and the takeover of click-bait style posts.

If you believe the rhetoric, you’d think the media startup launched by Jonah Peretti in 2006 is the apocalypse for journalists everywhere.

In fact, it’s this narrow-minded thinking that will bring about the demise of journalists’ careers at their current media companies – not because people like click-bait titled articles more, but because BuzzFeed is about to become a company that deals with much more than pop culture lists. Peretti could very well become the Rupert Murdoch of the Y Generation.

What people need to keep in mind is that Peretti was actually one of the co-founders of Huffington Post. Sure, he wasn’t in the limelight as much as Arianna Huffington was, but nonetheless he played a pivotal role in building a media startup into a world wide journalistic sensation which then sold to AOL for $315 million dollars.

Media startups don’t need to be about disruption at all; they just need to make sure they keep up with how their audience likes to digest the content they create. On the other side of the coin, they need to make sure that they keep up with clients needs. For instance, I’d say partnerships are the new advertising.

At the moment, BuzzFeed draws in around 150 million monthly viewers. Consider that for a moment; that’s seven and a half times the population of Australia. That’s more viewers than any one top rated television show receives, even Game of Thrones. Those that dismiss the company as a destination for unfulfilling brainless click-bait style content are missing the big picture. Peretti has created a destination, a place people on the internet gather and share content. The reality is, the company hasn’t even achieved what Peretti set out to do yet.

To be honest, I don’t get the argument about “click-bait” titles. It’s a simple equation; the topic in the title either piques your interest or it doesn’t. The notion that sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy are less journalistic because they have a better “catchier” title on top of them is a stupid one. I would argue that a click-bait title enables me to make a faster decision as to whether or not it will be content that I am interested in engaging with.

So what is the big vision? How could BuzzFeed become the “hip” Newscorp of today?

In his blog yesterday, Chris Dixon partner at Andreessen Horowitz (the investors of the US$50 million round) said:

Many of today’s great media companies were built on top of emerging technologies. Examples include Time Inc. which was built on color printing, CBS which was built on radio, and Viacom which was built on cable TV. We’re presently in the midst of a major technological shift in which, increasingly, news and entertainment are being distributed on social networks and consumed on mobile devices. We believe BuzzFeed will emerge from this period as a preeminent media company.

BuzzFeed started out focusing on lightweight content like memes, lists, funny photos, etc. This led some industry observers to dismiss Buzzfeed as a “toy”. The company has since moved steadily up market, following the typical path of disruptive technologies. It now has an editorial staff of over 200 people covering a wide range of topics – politics, sports, business, entertainment, travel, etc – and plans to invest significantly more in high-quality content in the coming years.

We see BuzzFeed as a prime example of what we call a “full stack startup”. BuzzFeed is a media company in the same sense that Tesla is a car company, Uber is a taxi company, or Netflix is a streaming movie company. We believe we’re in the “deployment” phase of the internet. The foundation has been laid. Tech is now spreading through every industry and every part of the world. The most interesting tech companies aren’t trying to sell software to other companies. They are trying to reshape industries from top to bottom.

BuzzFeed has technology at its core. Its 100+ person tech team has created world-class systems for analytics, advertising, and content management. Engineers are 1st class citizens. Everything is built for mobile devices from the outset. Internet native formats like lists, tweets, pins, animated GIFs, etc. are treated as equals to older formats like photos, videos, and long form essays. BuzzFeed takes the internet and computer science seriously.

Peretti’s plans are big, so far he has alluded to three major developments that will happen within the BuzzFeed brand. The first is the addition of new content sections – expanding on news and looking at increasing the long form and essay style content. The second is the potential creation of an in-house incubator for media technologies and possibly even some acquisitions of existing mediatech company. The third, and undoubtedly the largest, task is the launch of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, which is well on its way to developing some of its own original projects.

BuzzFeed Motion Pictures brings up the question around distribution. Will movies and original series by BuzzFeed live solely on BuzzFeed?

Perhaps not. Multiple media outlets are reporting that BuzzFeed will soon begin employing teams that have the sole job of producing original content for other social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This makes sense distribution wise, as the game is all about maximum engagement and that means maximum eyeballs. Imagine the premier of a movie being seen by 200 million people on opening night; that is the kind of scale that not even Hollywood studios can achieve right now. I can see where Peretti is taking things, and it’s pretty damn inspiring.

This is not an end to journalism. It’s the creation of a multi-layer media technology platform that includes everything from investigative long form journalism to blockbuster hits.

The more pressing question is, who is going to be able to adequately compete?

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