Movie and TV show production could be about to undergo a big disruption, thanks to a fiendishly clever innovation by digital media firm BuzzFeed.
BuzzFeed has rapidly acquired a dominant reputation for shareable quizzes and listicles, but there’s a lot more to its repertoire of digital content. As the president of its Motion Pictures division, Ze Frank, put it this week:
“We make lots of content: we’ve made over 3,000 videos in the last two years, we make over 50 a week right now and we do a billion views a month.
“The reality is that when you’re in a time that is dominated by social distribution, the stuff that spreads to you is the stuff that you’re going to define the brand by. If your friends are sharing a lot of silly stuff with you that’s how you’re going to think of BuzzFeed’s content.”
The content beyond the “silly stuff” includes an ingenious video production strategy from BuzzFeed’s Motion Pictures division: it’s making short-form clips for distribution on the web that can be tested for development into much longer-form formats such as TV and cinema productions. This online audience is huge, providing a ready-made and substantial pool of respondents for gauging whether new ideas or characters can elicit sufficient interest to make such a transition a viable proposition.
The shorts, Frank explained, can be used to test casting, an issue his scripting lab is continually thinking about in a character-first way. Short-form videos can move in a “frictionless” way around the web, which makes them, in Frank’s words, “a fantastic way to build affinity with shows and characters. And that affinity will translate over to larger stuff.”
Three things can come back to BuzzFeed through this strategy: data, money and strategic relationships. As Frank puts it, BuzzFeed really wants all of them. Currently, he says, everything is under consideration, from free to windowed exclusives to handing the productions over to the box office and letting them keep all the receipts (BuzzFeed would treat that as marketing).
He makes a shrewd point: the big studies aren’t equipped to be so flexibly innovative because they move so slowly and the capital involved is immense. By comparison, he says, “BuzzFeed is a big R&D lab.”