What Buzzfeed Has To Teach Television

I’ve been writing a lot about multidimensional (multi-screen) storytelling in film and television. The goal is to use the New Media forces that some perceive as a threat to the industry, and instead, use these things to our advantage.

First, how does one properly use New Media at all? It’s obvious that the internet is more nimble than an older industry like Television or Film. So start by looking at the shifting ways smart websites make money. Can these lessons be applied to television? Yes, some.

Many sites are adjusting their monetization plans to match changes in user behavior and the advance of our technology — in real time.

For instance, the right column of a website that is traditionally reserved for banner ads disappears on a mobile device, so putting ads into online conversations becomes crucial. Embedding sponsored content amongst other pieces of free-rider content is what Buzzfeed does. They call it Social Advertising.

Banner advertising is still the main way websites make money – five times more than the kind of sponsorships that BuzzFeed sells. But they are a remnant of the pre-app, pre-mobile internet. As we all go mobile, banner ads’ market share is expected to shrink. This year from 23.3% to 22.6%, while Buzzfeed-esque sponsorships’ share is expected to grow from 4.2% to 4.5%. A trend which will continue. Why? The internet is not websites anymore. Mobile is the future. Unless you think smart phones and ad-blocking browser plugins will magically disappear, then bet on Buzzfeed’s approach.

Via WSJ, from the horse’s mouth:

BuzzFeed President Jon Steinberg says developing effective social advertising will become more important as Web traffic increasingly goes mobile. “Social advertising is going to eat display advertising,” he says, adding that BuzzFeed’s ads cost roughly the same as a premium display ad.

What does this mean for carriers of Buzzfeed’s content like Facebook? The answer to that is murky. “We are very complementary companies,” claims Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s chief executive. “They own the railroad tracks, we drive the trains.”

Ha! I assume he knows that if we follow this metaphor to it’s logical conclusion, eventually he’s going to have to sign a shadowy 260 year lease for the air rights to roll freight onto Facebook. Basically, Buzzfeed is quick to call Facebook a common carrier, but it isn’t. Facebook is going to do exactly what Buzzfeed does for profit. Or Facebook is going to buy Buzzfeed, or charge them to run their freight over FB “tracks.”

But The Atlantic thinks that Facebook morphing into a cable company would be a mistake for Facebook:

Facebook will be stuck in a position where they’re forced to cannibalize their best revenue platform. There’s no way to squeeze as many ads as investors want on a three-inch-diagonal screen without customers screaming that their News Feed looks like a classifieds section.

Sponsored content, social ads, or bespoke advertising, whatever you call it, really looks to me like the future of most monetization plans online. And again, the internet is a disruptive technology so it also disrupts viewer expectations. The hyper-distribution strategy is going to bleed into Television as a result. Making your content entertaining, relevant “advertisements,” will be a way that a lot of companies generate revenue.  A lot – but not all.

I can see it working for a lot of nonfiction (“reality”) shows. You see that a lot on the Food Network. For scripted, I can see it working with a very strong organic tie-ins like that cybercrime TV show with the Norton Antivirus technician hero, or like a western reboot called, “Tales of Wells Fargo.”

And for the rest? I fear it will take much more creative work than people are currently willing to spend. Creative marketing ideas that extend the reach and pull of the story across many online services, communities, platforms – all tied into the long-arcs of the show’s story, all plotted from inception.

Right now, a lot of people don’t think all this strategic story-telling is necessary because ad rates are mostly holding fine, cord cutting numbers are mostly holding fine; everything will be peachy. In other words, they haven’t hit rock bottom yet. But the Millennial generation is going to change all that. That’s what they do.

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