Viral media beast BuzzFeed has already shaken up news coverage in New York and Washington. Now, the site is taking its playbook to the west coast where it aspires to remake reporting on ditzes, directors and other fixtures of Hollywood.
On Monday, the site announced the formal launch of BuzzFeed Entertainment which promises to “take the fun side of Hollywood very seriously” with in-depth coverage of studios, celebrities, money and more.
The west coast move will test whether BuzzFeed can muscle into the entertainment world in the same way it did with its political coverage. Last year, the site became a serious player in Washington after hiring Politico’s Ben Smith and partnering with the New York Times at political conventions.
In Hollywood, BuzzFeed is betting on original reporting to help stand out from saturated celebrity coverage. In a phone interview, Smith said that serious entertainment reporting has been in decline since the heyday of the Los Angeles Times and that there is a “huge space” for stories that lie in between celebrity fluff and hyper-insider fare. He added that, while the volume of Hollywood coverage has shot up in recent years, most of it is repetitive.
BuzzFeed has almost finished staffing the LA office where it will initially assign 15-20 people to video, entertainment and culture beats with plans to expand more in the future. The site is also relying on veteran west coast media types like Richard Rushfield and Kate Arthur to get a foothold against the likes of Deadline, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.
So how is BuzzFeed going to pay for all this? For now, the site has the confidence of investors who are smitten with its “native advertising” business model which eschews traditional display ads in favor of ad content that more closely mimics existing stories. Last week, investors poured nearly $20 million of new funding into BuzzFeed. The site’s $200 million valuation was enough to tie it for first place (along with Sugar Media) among the Atlantic Quartz’s list of leading new media upstarts; they were followed by Bleacher Report, Vox Media, Cheezburger Network and Business Insider.
(note: this story contains a clarification from BuzzFeed re how many reporters will staff its LA office).