What’s old is new again: Websites tune into TV for expansion opportunities

Websites are betting on television to bring them into the future. Within the past few days, three major online publishers, including BuzzFeed, Daily Mail and the Huffington Post have either announced a television show or said they’re thinking about one.

Yesterday at Cannes Lions, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said he was exploring ways to bring the brand to television, but is moving cautiously because he wants the brand to make its own mark on it.

“We resisted for a long time,” Peretti said according to the Wall Street Journal. “People kept pitching us TV shows but we didn’t know anything about TV, and our special powers came from having a closer relationship with our audience.”

He’s previously said that he’s “not interested in the end product of television” and that “a lot of people who read BuzzFeed don’t watch television that much.”

Now, not so much. The renewed confidence in the medium is likely buoyed by its blossoming YouTube channels operating under the BuzzFeed Motion Pictures brand. It claims to reach more than one billion people each month, so even a fraction of that for any network would be considered a success.

“If you could figure out a way to say people are really connecting … why can’t you make a TV show that’s informed by that?” Peretti said.

While BuzzFeed is still thinking about it, Daily Mail is moving full-steam ahead. On Thursday, the publisher that’s better known for its “sidebar of shame” website than its stuffy newspaper, inked a deal with Dr. Phil McGraw and team to produce a syndicated television show.

The show, scheduled to premiere in fall 2016, will mimic its splashy coverage of celebrity news and tabloid topics. If anything, DailyMailTV sounds a lot like TMZ’s program in that the newspaper’s newsroom will be the set and its correspondents will frequently be seen on air.

Despite the similarities, Daily Mail’s publisher and editor-in-chief Martin Clarke said it’s “not going to be TMZ.” The intent is to expand the Mail’s audience by targeting a television audience that might otherwise not be familiar with it.

“This is not a bolt-on; we’re not just lending our name,” said Clarke. “This is part of Daily Mail, a complete integration of the two teams journalistically. There are plenty of websites that pretend they know how to do video, but we thought we’d do business with someone who knew how to do TV and video, a team that are unrivaled experts.”

As for the Huffington Post (also co-founded by Peretti), which already has the streaming news program HuffPost Live, is significantly boosting its video presence with a 24-hour online video network called, wait for it, HuffPost 24.

Scheduled for a late 2015 launch, it will be the focal point of the newly redesigned HuffingtonPost.com later this year and show live programs, short-form videos, documentries and perhaps films. But it won’t be on a linear cable network, rather it will stream on its apps, the website and on over-the-top channels (i.e. on a Roku box).

Co-founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington told the Hollywood Reporter that it’s part of its ambitious effort to amp up video offerings. “As we see the world moving to mobile and global video, these are pretty big priorities. Being able to produce video that can be consumed both by over-the-top and mobile is a huge priority for us,” she said.

So, why are Web companies flocking to television? Media critic Michael Wolff predicted this trend back in December in an interview with Digiday saying television is no longer the wasteland it once was. Video is a robust medium that commands higher ad rates, making it attractive to digital media companies, which have seen their display ad rates plummet.

“Everybody in digital media will be trying to get into the television business,” he said. “The only word you hear now is ‘video.’ There are actually two words you hear: ‘premium video.’ It seems to me a very clear step back to television.”


More in Media

daily newsstand

Media Briefing: Why some publishers are resurrecting their print magazines

Nylon and Complex are bringing back print, but see more opportunity than just pure ad revenue.

Publisher strategies: Condé Nast, Forbes, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The Independent on key revenue trends

Digiday recently spoke with executives at Condé Nast, Forbes, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The Independent about their current revenue strategies for our two-part series on how publishers are optimizing revenue streams. In this second installment, we highlight their thoughts on affiliate commerce, diversification of revenue streams and global business expansion.

How sending fewer emails and content previews improved The New Yorker’s newsletter engagement

The New Yorker is sending newsletters less frequently and giving paid subscribers early access to content in their inboxes in an effort to retain its cohort of 1.2 million paid subscribers and grow its audience beyond that.