VidCon 2015 featured a very high-profile interview conducted by Yahoo’s Katie Couric. At a fireside chat for the annual digital media event’s industry track, Couric talked to BuzzFeed Motion Pictures’ Ze Frank about the social power behind BuzzFeed’s video content, the story behind the digital media company’s feature film division, and the future of the online video industry.
After joking about how old she felt at her first-ever VidCon among a sea of very vocal teenage girls, Couric launched into a discussion about BuzzFeed’s wildly successful video content and asked Frank if he was obsessed with the idea of popularity. Frank clarified he was more obsessed with the mechanics of popularity than popularity itself, like how a video can make someone say, “That’s totally me,” and then influence the individual to share the video with his or entire social sphere.
“Identity is one of the vectors for how we use media,” Frank noted. The video veteran also said BuzzFeed works hard to serve the people typically underserved by traditional media. Frank noted niche audiences inform the company’s video creation as much as possible, and BuzzFeed even relies on its own staff members for niche community ideas.
Frank used his company’s “Weird Things All Couples Fight About” video as an example of BuzzFeed’s ability to connect to its audience on a human level. Frank said the reason that video was shared so often is because people didn’t relate to the video itself, but rather used the video as a vehicle to consider their own relationships. “It’s not the perfect video about relationships,” Frank explained, noting the clip couldn’t possibly contain every single argument between couples. “It’s the perfect opportunity to talk about [your relationships].”
Couric then asked Frank why BuzzFeed chose such a traditional name for its feature film division, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. Frank responded by clarifying that a “motion picture is really a kind of “animated GIF.”
“The retro term ‘motion picture’ has actually now been appropriated to mean something very, very specific, and almost arbitrarily so, like a movie that lasts this long, or has a theatrical release, or whatever,” Frank explained. The BuzzFeed Motion Pictures President said his company is trying to take back and “re-appropriate” the term, because “we are experiencing the greatest time in the history of media for images that move.”
Couric then posed the question to Frank about why even go into traditional media at all. In turn, Frank reversed the question back to Couric, as the former news anchor and reporter moved away from traditional media to get into the digital space. Couric explained how she’d done all she could in her offline career; likewise, Frank said his video team had hit a threshold in their digital realm.
Couric finished up the interview with a question about where Frank thinks the future of the online video industry is heading. Frank responded by saying ultimately, there will be a difference “between the media you watch…and the media you get lost in…where [the content] and your social existence are exactly the same thing.” That difference is manifested in something like consuming an episode of CSI versus watching an episode of Game of Thrones, getting lost in the story, and posting about the show and your reaction to it on social media.
“I think that second usage is going to be bigger and bigger,” Frank said, “And more and more people are going to choose to be in those spaces.”