Two years ago, I sat down with BuzzFeed CEO Ben Smith. He had recently been hired away from Politico to lead Jonah Peretti’s news room and I wanted to do a Q&A for Business Insider.
We were talking about the future of media and BuzzFeed’s role in it when Smith said something pretty out there.
He said something to the effect of:
“On our craziest days of brainstorming, sometimes Jonah and I wonder if BuzzFeed even needs to have a website.”
Huh? I wondered. How could a company that doesn’t house its own content make money, especially when it relies on advertising revenue? Smith indicated that all BuzzFeed content could live on other platforms, like Facebook, since that’s where the majority of referral traffic came from anyway.
I was reminded of that conversation last night when I read Mike Isaac’s New York Times piece on BuzzFeed’s $50 million fundraise announcement. At the end of the article, Isaac states:
And the future of BuzzFeed may not even be on BuzzFeed.com. One of the company’s nascent ideas, BuzzFeed Distributed, will be a team of 20 people producing content that lives entirely on other popular platforms, like Tumblr, Instagram or Snapchat.
In theory, advertisers could sponsor BuzzFeed’s Snapchat stream. The content would never have to live on Buzzfeed.com as long as there was a native placement on whatever video or photo BuzzFeed produced. Of course, then BuzzFeed would be eating into Snapchat’s monetization efforts, which is something both companies would need to figure out.
I reminded Smith of that conversation today in an email.
“You have a good memory,” he responded. “We like having a website as both a launching pad and a technology platform that we feel gives us a real edge. But I also feel there’s a huge opportunity here in this project, which [BuzzFeed Managing Editorial Director] Summer is leading. One that can do amazing work, both informed by and informing what we do in the rest of editorial.”