Almost everyone agrees we are at the end of an era for digital media, with many of the biggest digital media companies, including us, being forced to adapt to a new world. But there is less agreement about what that new world looks like, and how the next era of digital media will take shape. Here are a few of my predictions, and how we are adapting at BuzzFeed, Inc. to thrive in the next era of media.
1. The Return of News Homepages
Readers are sick of all the negative news in their social media feeds. The vast majority of people will increasingly want social media platforms to provide an escape where they can find entertainment, joy, and fun. Audiences will still want news, they just don’t want it to ruin the fun when they are escaping into entertainment. This will drive a return to the editorially curated news homepage like HuffPost, Drudge, and CNN.com. In fact on Monday this week, HuffPost hit 16 million pageviews – a record high since joining BuzzFeed, Inc. — a sign this prediction is already coming true. The idea that news orgs should “find people where they are” will fall out of favor. Audiences will take more control of when, how, and whether they consume news. Conviction about this prediction is why we wound down BuzzFeed News and are moving some key reporters and editors over to HuffPost where we will be investing in growing an already significant direct audience.
2. Entertainment Wins The Internet
The flip side of my first prediction is that the internet and social platforms will become fun again, the fights and toxicity and culture wars will move to fragmented silos, and popular entertainment will reign. The biggest platforms will increasingly be defined by how much fun they provide their users. As a result, the only profitable, sustainable content businesses that can be built on top of the big platforms will be focused on entertainment. This is why we are doubling down on entertainment to focus the BuzzFeed brand on making the internet more fun. BuzzFeed entertainment has more than 2x the audience of Vice and Vox and almost 10x the audience of BuzzFeed News, which only represented about 5% of our total audience. Our audience loves entertainment and we can operate profitably by covering trends, making shopping more playful, creating new interactive AI formats, and helping creators connect with our audience.
3. Creators Form Alliances with Media Companies
For all the hype about creators forging their own paths, we are at an inflection point where creators and media companies will join forces to win on the big platforms and get dollars from the biggest advertisers. Creators on their own get burnt out, lack community, and don’t have a way to establish their trustworthiness and relevance. Media companies on their own trend toward a lack of voice and relatability. Joining forces solves both problems. The next few years will be defined by creators partnering with the best media brands for credibility, community, and cash. For us, Tasty is leading this transformation in how media is made and distributed, giving us the conviction to extend this model to more brands. Creators represent 70% of Tasty content, generate 6x the views per video, and more than 1B views on Instagram alone. The results are amazing for everyone when creators and media companies work together, develop IP together, collaborate on new formats and frames, and jointly brainstorm with analytics from the larger BuzzFeed Inc media network.
4. AI Will Kill All Humans
Just kidding, that won’t happen, at least not in the next few quarters. But I do think generative AI will kill the majority of static content in the near future. Audiences will begin to expect all content to be personalized, interactive, dynamic, with embedded intelligence. Formats that were developed before the AI-revolution, and many of the formats and conventions of the media industry will need to be updated and adapted, or begin to feel stale and outdated. This is why we’ve been investing in AI-powered content and launching new formats like Infinity Quizzes and Chatbot games. In the past two months, we've seen time spent increase over 40% when a quiz is AI-powered, compared to legacy quizzes; and our first chatbot game had an average time spent 4x higher than time spent on static quizzes.
5. Cultural Moments Take Market Share
The digital ecosystem will be dominated by cultural moments and a much higher percentage of advertising budgets will flow toward cultural relevance tied to big moments. Marketers need moments in order to effectively reach their target audiences and define their brands, but in a digital ecosystem, it is difficult to plan for them. Very few partners can deliver Voice + Scale together in one package. BuzzFeed, Inc. is a one-stop shop for big moments in culture that marketers can plan for and advertise around. Moments are things that have a combination of scarcity and unaided demand. There is a shared understanding among the audience of the moment’s impact on culture. We drive and create our own moments - ComplexCon, Hot Ones, Puppy Interviews - or ride big moments on the pop culture calendar with Prime Day, Latine Heritage Month, Hip Hop 50, and more. The last season of Hot Ones contributed a number of huge cultural moments, with the Jenna Ortega episode alone generating 101.6M total views across all platforms.
If they can adapt, known brands with big audiences will benefit most if and when these predictions come true. We have left the era of easy growth for media startups. It is harder to build new brands and audiences as media fragments, news becomes more siloed, creators define the voice of media companies, and AI leads to a proliferation of new personalized media formats.
Established brands like ours, with real scale, can benefit from the shift to creators and AI-powered media. Creators want to align with our brands and audiences trust us to introduce them to new AI-powered content formats. This is why I’m so fired up and the team is so excited about building for this next era of the internet. A huge new wave is coming, and with brands like BuzzFeed, Complex, Tasty, HuffPost, and Hot Ones, we are in a tremendous position to ride it.