There is little point listing reasons why BuzzFeed UK failed, it certainly wasn’t anything to do with the team that produced the content nor even that Facebook algo change, though that won’t have helped. It was quite simply that the business model was doomed. BuzzFeed has a successful business pitched at under 30s who want to read non-serious viral content. Advertisers are happy to pay for that. They won’t pay much however because the social media platforms also have a lot of raw viral content. Less curated, less explained, less analysed for sure, less costly too. Consumer advertisers don’t really care that much.
So setting up a “woke” hard news operation was a strategic error for the BuzzFeed brand. Blue chip advertisers that want to reach political news junkies, who are more likely to be decision makers, want their adverts to be adjacent to thought leaders or influencers of political leaders. So those types of advertisers like the broadsheets, specialist political magazines and websites like the Spectator, New Statesman, Politico and, frankly, Guido. Consumer advertising that you see on more generalist publications is in a lot of trouble, it is of low value.
“Go woke, go broke” is too simplistic an analysis. BuzzFeed’s new brand “Tasty” is producing baking videos which are bringing in a lot of dough. Setting up Tasty, a food focused channel for millennials made much more sense and has generated tens of millions of dollars in new revenue. It is the reason why BuzzFeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti moved into a $5 million mansion in the LA hills last year:
If however you just have general interest content, with general interest readers, you are going to suffer a lot from a general downturn in advertising. Membership plans might work if you have readers who identify strongly with your brand. They’re really just voluntary subscriptions and paying subscribers are a goldmine. BuzzFeed will not be the last general interest news media brand to fail.