News Corp is embracing BuzzFeed-style, viral video

Next plan to dominate the web?
Next plan to dominate the web?
Image: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi
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Just a few months ago, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson went out of his way to take aim at BuzzFeed, the viral content company best known for its listicles, gifs, and videos, and its ability to capture vast amounts of web traffic. “Anyone can attract traffic, but there is trash traffic, and there is real traffic,” Thomson said at an investor conference last year. “You go onto BuzzFeed and you’re in a strange place. It’s a really strange place.”

An IAF promotional stall at News Corp’s Newfront event.
An IAF promotional stall at News Corp’s Newfront event.

Now, News Corp, the publishing giant behind staid titles like The Wall Street Journal and the Times of London (and plenty of low-brow tabloids) seems to have undergone a rethink.  At the company’s “Newfront” presentation to advertisers in Manhattan today (May 1), it showcased a number of new video initiatives. The one that really piqued our interest is called IAF, or Internet Action Force, which promotional materials described as “the world’s first rapid-response team of highly trained, socially awkward digital nerds,” who are charged with surfacing and creating the “web’s weirdest” content.

Here is a taste of what that means.

The initiative, which quietly went live in recent weeks, falls under the remit of New York Post CEO and publisher Jesse Angelo. “The vision is, could you make rapid-response, funny, topical video about what’s trending on social, that is designed to travel on social, and mostly be consumed on phones?” he told Quartz on the sidelines at the Newfront event. “It’s really about making people laugh.”

To that end, IAF is being staffed mostly with improvisational  comedians, he said, and is being led by John Devore, previously the managing editor of talk show host Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco digital offering.

Angelo acknowledged the clear similarities between IAF and BuzzFeed’s own video play (probably best known for this video with US president Barack Obama). ”It has some similarities in that it’s targeted at that [younger] generation, but it’s not just native like BuzzFeed is,” Angelo says.

In addition to YouTube, the videos will distributed on News Corp properties, opening the way for advertising support from its own clients. He said the content is “is pretty tailor-made for native [advertising].”

At the event, News Corp and the New York Post also showcased higher-brow video fare, including One More Night, an intriguing series about shuttered music venues in New York City.

Of course, News Corp’s billionaire owner, Rupert Murdoch has praised BuzzFeed before.

Neither Thomson nor Murdoch was in attendance this morning. A spokesman said they were in London.

News Corp, of course, is not unfamiliar with video content: up until fairly recently it was part of the same conglomerate that owns Fox News and the 21st Century Fox film empire. In any case,  the fresh push into internet video, outlined at the Newfront today, is a nice illustration of where the rapidly converging internet, publishing, and video industries are heading.