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Nov. 26, 2019, 11:27 a.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: nymag.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   November 26, 2019

As the 2010s come to a close, New York is publishing “long talks with people who helped shape the decade — and were shaped by it.” Among them (alongside Margaret Atwood, Kim Kardashian, and Ta-Nehisi Coates) is BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti. Max Read’s full interview with him is here. Some excerpts:

In the early days of BuzzFeed, our traffic would die in the evening because people would watch television or go out with their friends. Now, with mobile, we see prime time for our content as the same as prime time for television. People are sharing content and looking at content later.

(In 2010, Peretti famously called his target audience for making something viral the Bored-At-Work Network.)

On the dress post of 2015 (which got 28 million views in a single day):

I think that scared Facebook a little bit, that there could be a publisher that promotes a piece of content that then their algorithm feels like it needs to show to everyone in the world. Today, there’s a fear of viral content — you see this in China to an even greater extent. The Chinese government is very afraid of things that go viral, because it’s something that they can’t control. And I think even in the U.S. now, there’s more of a moment of trying to control the internet. Ironically, that has led to much more microtargeting, where instead of having one thing that everyone in the world sees, we have personalized content for each individual, and keep people more in their lanes and in their bubbles, and not have as much entertainment that cuts across the entire social network or the entire web. In the long run, I think that’s led to things like more separatist movements around the world, more polarization.

On BuzzFeed’s own experience with microtargeted content, like “You know you’re from Princeton, New Jersey when…”

[When] you look at a post like “Signs You’re Raised by Asian Immigrant Parents,” we could see that half of the people reading it weren’t Asian. I think what ended up happening is that, over time, people realized you could do the same thing but have it be about a negative view of other people. Like, “This is who we are, and everyone else is threatening us.” Or, “You should be fearful of us.”

On how journalism has changed over the decade:

I think a lot of the biggest stories are now being driven by the online reaction. I don’t think the Me Too movement is just a heroic act of journalism; it’s that every time there’s a story, the online distribution of that story results in new victims and new sources emerging, and then it creates a new urgency for the subjects of the story who are no longer able to keep their jobs or to avoid scrutiny.

On the pivot to video:

We knew Facebook wanted to do video; they said they wanted to do more video. And we also knew that Facebook’s users didn’t like video. We’d say, “Oh, we have all these great videos. We can put them on Facebook, too.” We put them on Facebook, and the audience hated it — and they hated it because they were using Facebook for, you know, two-minute check-ins when they had a little break in their day to see what was going on in the world and with their friends. Text is a better thing, more scannable….

The companies that have stayed away from video have done better than the companies that have kind of half-assed it and tried to do video and then realized that, “Oh, this is expensive.” The problem is that the cost was something people didn’t think about. They just thought about the CPMs and the advertising. They’re like, “Oh, I get a $10 CPM on my text content, but they’ll pay $30 for a video. That means I should pivot to video, and video will be great.” And then you get into it, and you start saying, “Oh, wait a second, how much does it cost to make the video?”

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