Emily Tan
Aug 20, 2015

How big of a deal is Buzzfeed's JV with Yahoo?

The joint-venture between Yahoo Japan and Buzzfeed has the digital press buzzing, but how important is it for the media industry? GroupM Japan's head of interaction, Shawn Finn, shares his point of view with us in this Q&A.

Buzzfeed videos such as 'Americans try Japanese snacks' are likely to do well
Buzzfeed videos such as 'Americans try Japanese snacks' are likely to do well

Given Yahoo Japan's dominance and how stand-offish it's been in the past to foreign players, how big of a deal is this? What is the potential here?

This is a perfect co-branding opportunity for both Yahoo Japan and Buzzfeed, as each brings to the table expertise or market presence the other lacks. Specifically, Yahoo Japan’s premium video service provider GyaO (just under 9 million unique users per month as of June 2015, according to ComScore) concentrates on offering long-form video content—major domestic movie releases, popular TV dramas, and an extensive back catalogue of classic anime. Long-form video content tends to be viewed primarily on PCs in Japan, leaving Yahoo Japan with a product gap in terms of short, snackable video content tailor-made for mobile consumption.

Buzzfeed’s success has largely been built on the back of its charismatic team of talented young writers, actors and producers, who are adroit at capturing current cultural trends and turning them into three-minute video breaks. The recent Women try Kylie Jenner Lips for the first time video is a textbook example of this.

See also: Success of Buzzfeed and Yahoo venture hinges on "how Japanese it becomes"

If the new joint venture can secure a similar group of writing and production talent, the potential to grow Yahoo’s overall video content business is massive. Consider that in 2014, video traffic made up 59 per cent of all mobile data usage in the country, and that nearly 30 per cent of all users from 20 to 29 years old view video on a smartphone during lunch or on their train commute, found a February 2015 survey by Macromill. This is an ideal audience for Buzzfeed content.

Is Buzzfeed's type of content popular among the Japanese? Are there differences from the rest of the world?

Buzzfeed’s primary target demo is 20-to-early-30s digital natives who have some degree of current pop-cultural awareness. Content tends to be on the lighter side; topics among the most popular, most viewed videos include the “Americans try” series (personal favourite: Americans try Japanese Kit-Kats) the Try Guys, and the Life/Change series (In one, the series follows Buzzfeed staffers on a 30-day strict no-sugar diet). This type of content is popular among Japanese and will translate well cross-culturally. Watching celebs trying exotic foods is a mainstay of nightly Japanese variety shows, after all.

On the other hand, Buzzfeed produces pieces on various hot cultural activism topics, such as If Asians said the stuff White people say or Lesbians answer questions you’re too afraid to ask. Japanese tend not to wear their pet activism projects on their sleeves the way Americans and other Westerners do. Even though Buzzfeed does inject some humour into its  issue awareness videos, these types of topics will likely not see the same traction in Japan—particularly in terms of social sharing.

In the end, the success of Buzzfeed’s Japanese content will hinge on the quality of the production and acting staff the put in place. It may be wise to consider approaching some established domestic YouTube stars to be featured in pre-launch promos and launch content pieces, to lend an air of legitimacy to the whole endeavour.

Are the media agencies in Japan excited? Why? What is the opportunity for clients?

We can’t speak for other groups, but at GroupM Japan this is big news. Anytime a premium video content provider enters the market, especially for this demographic, we see fantastic opportunities to grow brand incremental reach for many key clients who sorely want to be in this space. 

Buzzfeed content’s short-form format, coupled with its high production value and highly sharable subject matter, offers clients access to a notoriously difficult demo to connect with. And let’s not short-sell the audience scale Yahoo Japan brings to this relationship as well: Yahoo’s top page is still the default home page for millions of PC users and is the first digital property many salarymen and women see when browsing the net before officially starting the work day. Yahoo Kids is the default home page on millions of schoolroom PCs throughout the country; brand exposure to Yahoo starts young here and is reinforced continually as kids grow into young adult internet users. Yahoo sites have a collective 81 per cent reach in Japan, according to ComScore.

What is Buzzfeed's "proprietary tech platform" and why is this a game changer?

Buzzfeed recently launched Pound (Process for Optimising and Understanding Network Diffusion), which allows it to track how Buzzfeed content spreads among the social networks its users spend so much time on. It traces downstream visits and shares from user to user, and is capable of following cross-network and peer-sharing propagations. User data is of course anonymised; no personally identifiable information is passed. 

The massive volume of what amounts to audience sharing attribution modelling data gives Buzzfeed deep insights on content performance. It essentially serves as a proprietary DMP and will enable Yahoo Japan to monetise future Buzzfeed audiences programmatically, likely in tandem with their extant Yahoo! DMP.

This is a game changer in that there is no in-market DMP currently capable of following user-sharing actions across multiple social networks, including peer-to-peer services, where Buzzfeed’s primary audience is continually migrating towards. If Pound can follow shares into Line, it will truly be a uniquely positioned DMP. Without Line, its value will be lessened.  

Shawn Finn is head of interaction at GroupM Japan


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