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BuzzFeed wants advertisers to know it's open for big business

BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti
Manuel Blondeau | AOP.Press/Corbis | Getty Images
BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti

BuzzFeed wants brands to know it's after those big budget brand dollars. The media company claims that if you want to reach millennials, you'll need their insights, which it says the rest of media — digital or TV — doesn't exactly have.

"It's not about creating something that everyone has some vague awareness like a network TV show," BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti told CNBC. "It's about creating deeper connections with people where it really touches their identity."


BuzzFeed made their pitch at its Digital Content NewFront presentation on Monday, the digital version of television's Upfront presentations. Over the next two weeks, 39 media companies will show off their upcoming slate of content for advertisers and agencies.

Central to the presentation was Peretti's insistence that "industrial ear-out media distribution doesn't allow for feedback from the audience." Instead, unlike traditional media companies, Peretti argued BuzzFeed's digital nature allows it use its audience data to learn from its successes. The media company said it gets 7 billion monthly views on more than 30 platforms in 12 countries.

While BuzzFeed has been a NewFront presenter since 2014, its previous presentations were focused on familiarizing brands with its company. Since last year, NBCUniversal made a $200 million investment in the company. It also added Frank Cooper as chief marketing officer and chief creative officer in June 2015. Cooper was previously the PepsiCo's chief marketing officer of global consumer engagement. At the same time, Financial Times reported Buzzfeed missed 2015 revenue projections by $80 million. It also cut its 2016 projections from $500 million to $250 million. (BuzzFeed disputed the figures but declined to give its own numbers. "We are very pleased with where BuzzFeed is today and where it will be tomorrow," the company said.)

"We're in a moment in time now where media use and entertainment is going to change significantly, and not at the margins but at the center," said Cooper. "I feel like BuzzFeed is well positioned to be at the heart of that. BuzzFeed is not just a production company. It has an operating system behind it, a way of thinking that I think maps well in the social mobile world, but also is starting to have an effect on linear TV."

For example, to say that BuzzFeed was surprised that their watermelon rubber band experiment went viral isn't entirely true. Prior to the Facebook Live video — which had 800,000 concurrent views at its peak and more than 10 million total views on the platform — BuzzFeed had tried another livestream stunt. One of the producers had put live goats in BuzzFeed Motion Pictures' president Ze Frank's office as a prank.

"Concurrent viewers went up and up and up until they went away," Frank said. "We were like, 'Oh my gosh, this is just rarified suspense.' We (started thinking of) what other kinds of things could we do that didn't involve talking, and you could immediately understand what was going on."

Previous stories had shown BuzzFeed that watermelon avatars did well online. The media company had also tried the watermelon-rubber band experiment on YouTube and had seen other videos. It took about 45 minutes to explode, giving the event time to build a live audience.

"If you take this approach of learning from your audience and learning over time, what happens over time is you start making things that are more complete that are ready for an audience," Peretti said. "They're ready for primetime. What you saw this year (at the NewFronts) was the work we did the last two years, building companies and building franchises and building connections with our audience. We have things that are really ready to go."

Even the digital shows that it presented for sponsorship were part of this experimentation model. Characters from the series "You Do You" had been featured on BuzzFeed over the last year and a half in short form content. After being packaged together as a show, it reached number 1 on iTunes TV, and season 1 and 2 has been viewed 22 million times on YouTube and Facebook. Another show "Broke" tested a pilot episode online. It got 27 million views on YouTube and Facebook alone.

BuzzFeed's resident digital influencers The Try Guys have 535 million views on Facebook and YouTube. BuzzFeed said that insights from what the four guys learned about what goes viral online can be used to create ideal brand integrations or sponsorships.

BuzzFeed's Cooper believes that BuzzFeed's model is the future.

"There's a better path getting to that big bet," Cooper said. "The better path is experimenting, iterating, adapting into the environment. When you see things that work, you double down that. No one is really offering that. What we're offering you is scale through impressions, scale through views, and we're saying not only can we offer you that, but there is a pathway that leads up to that."

Disclosure: NBCUniversal, which is the parent company of CNBC, is an investor in BuzzFeed.