Thursday, March 19, 2015

What Buzzfeed got before anyone else: Decentralized Media

I’ve been back from SXSW 2015 for about 48 hours and am only now starting to catch up on life, work, laundry, and blogging, in that order. In the interest of keeping readers of the Demassed blog well-filled with only the most up to date information, I thought I would tap out a relatively quick ‘best of the fest’ type of post, highlighting a few nuggets I gleaned in Austin last week. So today it's Part 1, and it's on Buzzfeed and how the company associated with circulating content with a high degree of contagiousness has in fact figured out the magic of decentralized media.

So what is decentralized media? A reasonable question, and one given consideration at a presentation at SXSW 2015 by Summer Burton, whose title is Editorial Director, Buzzfeed Distributed. In this role Summer creates digital content for Buzzfeed and distributes it on social platforms that are more up & coming than they are established, so things like six second looping videos for Vine, photo streams for Instagram, and blog feeds for Tumblr.

And what is centralized media then? Well, centralized media was pretty much the only kind of media most of us had prior to the Internet. Mass media ruled the roost, and while there were publications and underground media, they were very restricted by the high costs of creating content and the bottlenecks of physical distribution and geographical limitations in a world where broadcast signals and publications were not global by default, as they now are. 

Digital media has made the cost of creating and publishing content easier, and over time, cheaper than ever. Social networks brought the cost of distributing this content online to almost nil. And into this arena came Buzzfeed. The company was born in 2006, around the same time as YouTube and Twitter (more or less) and that’s probably not a coincidence, because built into the philosophy and culture of Buzzfeed is media as spreadable. In the words of media theorist Henry Jenkins “if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead”. Buzzfeed turned this credo into a business model, building a media company that sought not to drive traffic to its own, and owned properties, but to take its content to where people were congregating online. Places like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and assorted photo and video sharing networks. All in all Buzzfeed gets over 18 billion impressions per month, making it one of the most popular brands on the web. But here’s the rub (does anyone still say that?): of the 18 billion+ impressions made by Buzzfeed content just 200 million are on the Buzzfeed website. In other words, 90%+ of Buzzfeed’s traffic happens in non-Buzzfeed-branded places..

In an earlier era not only would this not have been a business model, it would have been considered ludicrous. Why would a company intentionally send traffic to someone else’s sites and/or platforms?

Summer Burton of Buzzfeed led us through some of the logic of Buzzfeed’s business at SXSW and explained it this way:

Buzzfeed is a way to surface what’s cool on the web 

In the early days of the Internet it used to look like lists and links

Then it was all “you’ll never believe….”.

And how does it look now? Now it looks like a picture of a baby weasel riding a woodpecker, showing up in a million different places.

"This is why we’re not about driving traffic to our website. Not since we noticed that our videos were huge on Facebook and YouTube", said Burton. True that. In fact, somewhere around 5%, possibly less, of Buzzfeed's video views happen on Buzzfeed's website. Burton continued: "We’re at 1 billion video views monthly, now that we’ve stopped thinking about websites and started thinking about distributed media. We even asked ourselves “what if Buzzfeed existed and didn’t have a website?”

"We give people a lot of room to try a lot of different things, using Tumblr, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest etc. Our secret is a culture of experimentation and giving people freedom more than it is just the data.

We want our content to be where people are

"We want content that taps into personal relationships. Like this one. And Ze Frank, Head of Buzzfeed video says the network around the video is more important than the video itself. This one was shared over a million times. If people say "that's me" the comments then we know we're on to something."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Notes from Podcamp Pt 2: Niche-o-nomics

And now, part 2 of highlights from Podcamp 2015 held recently in Toronto. If you missed Part 1, which looked at the future of content consumption in a world of multiple screens and necks crooked either downward or upward, you can catch up by reading it here. 

If you’re not committed enough to do so, that’s okay too, because today’s post picks up on themes explored not only in the previous post but all over this blog, namely the shift from a primarily mass media broadcast environment of limited choices to a cornucopia of niches in which pretty much anyone can publish, podcast, vlog, and blog.  

Now, there are those who have said yes, anyone can throw their stuff up online, and who really cares, because they probably won’t get anywhere. And in the early days of YouTubing and podcasting that was largely true. Sure, there were occasional ‘viral videos’ that moved around the Internet at the speed of greased lightning; but in many ways viral videos were the worst thing that could happen because they fell into the ‘one and done’ category. The chances of your baby, pet, or grandparent doing that unbelievable thing a second time are almost nil. Out of viral videos with tens of millions of views, careers are not generally made.

But what about a more modest level of success? Something a long way from household name type of stardom, and not enough to get you into a lease for a late model car…but what if you could do more or less what you wanted to? And if the money follows, that’s great. But that’s not the primary objective.

The Internet is the perfect place for such we’ll see from this roundup of the Podcamp panel I attended called Niche-o-nomics. Unlike the world of broadcast media, the Internet loves a niche, and these folks shared some of their stories about the benefits of choosing a thin slice of the market and sticking with it. The panel’s moderator was prolific podcaster Anthony Marco and the panellists were Greg David of and Emily Gagne of the ‘girl powered TV site’ Cinefilles (pictured below, L to R).

Things learned during the panel:

-       Greg David was a writer for TV Guide for 15 years…until that day he got called into the boss’ office and realized that because the HR person was also there this wasn’t going to be a meeting about giving him a new column

-        After getting laid off Greg needed to figure out what to do next. He remembered coming across a website called TV Eh, a fan site devoted to Canadian TV shows and the Canadian television industry. It had been run on a volunteer basis by Diane Wild and and had been lying fallow for a while. It had a great brand and great content, so Greg explored picking up the blog baton.

-       But some sort of funding was required. Why don’t we do an Indiegogo, thought Greg. To his surprise, the campaign was embraced not just by fans of Canadian TV shows, but also by Canadian TV executives, broadcasters, and writers.

-       "Once people found out what we were doing we were getting pitched like crazy, and getting better stuff than I did at TV Guide….because people knew we were passionate about this specific topic."

-       The panel concurred: Traditional media is used to rapid fire questions from the interviewer that will be cut down to a 30 second clip for broadcast. With our format people can slow down and talk for an hour because we’re not about filling schedules and formats with soundbites and our audiences wants more, not less.

Moderator Anthony Marco then asked the panelists:

Is the key to success establishing your niche?

The answer: A lot of years – of paid and unpaid work – that’s ultimately what establishes credibility.

To check out the credible podcasts and blogs discussed in this post, click here for the TV Eh podcast and here for the Cinefilles blog. 

Next week: I'll be heading to Austin for SXSW and the Interactive portion of the festival. With any luck I'll be posting some highlights from the festival and/or pictures of oversized helpings of food, should I encounter phenomena such as Texas toast.

Image courtesy

For SXSW 2015 Post #1 click here

Related Posts: 

The 3rd Wave of Podcasting, And How We Got Here
Podcasting: Art, Craft, or Reaching the Niches?
Podcasts outnumber Broadcasts 2-to-1 on iTunes charts
The Economy of 'Big Enough'
YouTube & filmmakers: From the small screen to the big screen..or not