Pando

YouTube’s new squeeze: Out with Reuters, in with BuzzFeed

By Hamish McKenzie , written on May 28, 2013

From The News Desk

YouTube wants angry babies, not heads of state. It apparently prefers to fund videos that reveal the secret behind Facebook’s globe icon rather than interviews with economists.

At least, that’s the lesson we can take from today’s announcement that BuzzFeed is partnering with CNN for a YouTube channel. While no-one has come out and said it yet, this initiative has YouTube’s fingerprints all over it. The online video giant has committed $350 million to investing in partnerships with content providers for YouTube “channels,” and going by this evidence, BuzzFeed is one of the most recent recipients.

The first wave of the channels partnership, in which YouTube set aside $150 million to fund about 100 channels, hit its first anniversary in January, at which point YouTube decided to cut off its grants to Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, believed to be in the order of $2 million each.

Observers believe those cuts were attributed to a weaker-than-hoped-for performance by the traditional news organizations, which took a straight-news approach to their channels. That strategy didn’t work well, missing YouTube’s demographic sweet spot -- Millennials -- and not lending itself well to the dynamics of social sharing that drive traffic on the video platform. The channels failed to generate excitement, registering views per video that numbered in the 200,000 to 1 million range, compared to the 3 million to 7 million views seen by the highest-rated channels. While Reuters and the Wall Street Journal were put on the chopping block, however, YouTube continued its partnerships with The Young Turks, SourceFed, and Vice, and committed an additional $200 million to the project.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed, which has been quietly building up its video network through YouTube over the last few months via a Los Angeles-based team headed by Internet video pioneer Ze Frank, suddenly has a slightly oddball pairing with CNN. BuzzFeed will be repackaging the news channel’s archival footage into content that has the potential to go viral. First up on the new channel: a clip featuring “Amazing Rescue Moments on CNN” with a voice-over telling us why we like to watch kids being pulled from earthquake rubble.

Ze Frank says while YouTube was not a direct player in forging the partnership between CNN and BuzzFeed, everything BuzzFeed’s video team does is within the context of a broader YouTube relationship. “We have an amazing relationship with YouTube and all of the decisions that we make are done in conjunction with YouTube,” Ze Frank said in an interview.

He confirmed that YouTube has invested money in the BuzzFeed video project, but he would not say how much. BuzzFeed has also announced that it will be investing an “eight-figure” sum into its video project over the next two years, some of which will be dedicated to a “social video studio” that it will open in Los Angeles in the next couple of months. Today marked the first time it integrated a video section into the BuzzFeed.com homepage.

YouTube is likely betting that BuzzFeed has a better shot at building giant audiences around video than its more news-oriented predecessors. Ze Frank says the video team will be applying the same methodology and philosophy espoused by BuzzFeed’s editorial team, which emphasises the social nature of media and using it as a proxy for conversation.

BuzzFeed’s YouTube channel, which overarches the new channel done in partnership with CNN, has already produced a series of hits since getting underway in September. Aside from a video showcasing the world’s angriest babies that has garnered nearly 5 million views, it has also found success with “The Most Trivial Mind Blowing Things You Never Thought of Before” (4.4 million views), “How to Piss Off Every New Yorker in 36 Seconds,” (5.6 million views), and “The World’s Most Dangerous Things to Humans” (3.2 million views). The videos show off BuzzFeed’s knack for combining clickable headlines with the difficult-to-elucidate “wtf” or “omg” reactions with which the media organization proudly stamps its content. The content’s news value, on the other hand, is yet to be determined.

YouTube, meanwhile, is tight-lipped on the extent of its investment in BuzzFeed’s video production efforts. A YouTube spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on its investments. However, YouTube’s director and global head of news content partnerships Jed Simmons, praised BuzzFeed in a press release for its ability to build “a remarkably engaged audience” while lauding its understanding of news and entertainment.

“BuzzFeed’s decision to double down on their YouTube channels is incredibly exciting and we look forward to continuing to work together and helping them grown,” Simmons said.