Monday 26 September 2016

CNN and BuzzFeed Unite: Should Brands Follow Their Lead?

Last week BuzzFeed announced a partnership with CNN to create a new YouTube channel for exclusive content that will utilize the CNN archive to create videos that appeal to a younger demographic. With over 60 million unique monthly visitors, BuzzFeed has built a sizable audience with 70% of its traffic coming from social and 50% being viewed on mobile. This mutually beneficial deal helps further establish BuzzFeed’s place within mainstream media while also delivering the young audience CNN needs to evolve its offering.  Better known for cat memes and over-the-top list videos that people love to share,  BuzzFeed believes it can apply their successful approach to the news to create compelling content that entertains as much as it informs. In conjunction they have opened a “social video studio” in Los Angeles that will be headquarters to a staff that will grow to 30 this year.

What does this mean for brands?

A joint venture like this illustrates the shifting landscape of online video and its role within what brands are trying to achieve through their digital strategies. CNN’s decision to align with BuzzFeed is not simply establishing another channel of distribution, but an acknowledgment that the approach needs to fit the platform. Too often brands will simply use their YouTube channels as a repository for media created for other platforms (often their TV commercials) and wonder why that content actually performs very poorly from an earned media standpoint.  With the right amount of paid media, any video can achieve tons of views.

By tailoring the content for an audience that voraciously consumes and shares online video, BuzzFeed has demonstrated how to organically grow its audience. As the CNN/BuzzFeed experiment unfolds in the coming months it will be interesting to see how well this approach ports to more traditional news done in a new way. Given their track record in the social video space, they will likely do very well for CNN and pull in that coveted younger audience. A win like that could really open the eyes of so many brands that have yet to really redefine their social approach when thinking about online video and more specifically YouTube.

If such an established and trusted brand like CNN can find success with this social video approach and still maintain its prestige, more and more brands will likely follow.  As of today there are less than a handful of brands on the Top 100 Most Subscribed YouTube channels.  Certainly the challenges to compete in a space dominated by individual personalities make it a tough sell to brands to invest heavily in their YouTube presence. But that also means there is a tremendous opportunity for growth and a chance to be the first to carve out success. CNN has thrown its hat in the ring and is doing what all brands need to do to survive: adapt. Hopefully more will follow.

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