Will BuzzFeed’s YouTube Partnership with CNN Improve Its Credibility?

The social media site takes another step to amp up its credibility while CNN targets a younger audience.

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Correction Appended May 29, 2013 at 2:45 p.m.

BuzzFeed has already captured the much sought-after attention of Millennials, and while other online media companies continue to clamor for the 18-34-year-old demographic, it seems the social media-savvy website is making a trade.

Early Tuesday morning BuzzFeed and CNN launched a joint YouTube channel, which will feature videos created from CNN’s archival footage in the form of news mash-ups tailored for social media and sharing. As the Wall Street Journal reports, BuzzFeed, which sees 18 million monthly unique visitors according to comScore, is aiming to add more news content to its already wildly popular website that includes addictive pop-culture lists frequently passed around social media platforms.

Meanwhile, CNN, which comScore reports already has 60 million monthly unique visitors, will cash in on BuzzFeed’s sweet spot of 18- to 34-year-old readers. According to Quantcast, CNN has less than 15% of viewers under age 24, which means perhaps CNN is benefiting as much as BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed President and COO Jon Steinberg said in a statement that more than 70% of the company’s traffic is social and more than half is mobile, which could be a boon for CNN’s demographic reach.

But rather than jumping into monetizing the partnership, CNN is taking a page from BuzzFeed’s business strategy and delaying advertising sponsorship. Steinberg pointed out in the Journal that BuzzFeed didn’t implement advertising until five years after its launch in 2006.

The YouTube strategy is nothing new for BuzzFeed, which already manages six channels with more than 500 total videos, but the CNN partnership is one of a few recent efforts to increase its credibility as a news source. Earlier this year BuzzFeed installed New York Times editor Lisa Tozzi as its news director and poached Reuters veteran media reporter Peter Lauria to helm a newly-launched business section.

“There is increasingly this big, social conversation around business content that people are sharing and reading, and we want to be in it,” BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith told the Journal in March.

But instead of making news fit its sharable, digestible format that many other media organizations have already experimented with, BuzzFeed is focusing on aligning with a big newsbrand like CNN. BuzzFeed will also collaborate on original lists that will be featured on CNN.com, and plans to open a social video studio in Los Angeles that will involve hiring 30 new employees to hone video content for the project.

“It’s a different way to use their business model, which they’ve already proven, and just expanding it to another level to see if it can work on the news-aggregation mash-up approach,” says Aaron Ginn, a growth hacker and head of growth for discovery engine StumbleUpon. “If they can take a meme approach to news, more power to them.”

The partnership underscores a looming question that other news outfits have attempted to answer in a variety of ways: Can applying the BuzzFeed format educate and engage young readers while creating wider distribution?

“I can read [BuzzFeed] while walking and still know what’s going on,” Ginn says. “Whether or not they can apply that to say, the IRS scandal, I don’t know if that’s going to have the same success.”

The channel’s first video, which has raked in more than 7,000 views in its first day, is a two-minute collection of CNN’s best footage of rescue moments, with a soft voiceover explaining, “inspiring moments of human courage,” according to the page. The video is not so much news-y as it is reminiscent of an Apple iPhone commercial.

But with only one video available, the model is still ripe with opportunity to engage the demographic that even Yahoo has recently tried to rein in with its $1 billion acquisition of Tumblr.

Ginn, a Millennial himself, says that content that resonates with the much coveted 18- to 34-year-old readership requires sharing entertainment value in less than five seconds. He points to Instagram as a successful model among young people because it’s engaging users with instantaneous, new content. With the CNNBuzzFeed YouTube channel only planning to offer three videos each week, perhaps the partnership is less about creating a new model and more about association.

The original version of this article included a misleading traffic comparison based on different traffic metrics. It stated that Buzzfeed has more than 60 million monthly unique visitors, according to a press release, while CNN has 22.4 million monthly unique visitors, according to Quantcast. According to comScore, Buzzfeed has 18 million monthly unique visitors, while CNN has 60 million monthly unique visitors.

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