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Making Sense of the CNN-Buzzfeed Channel

May 31, 2013

Credit CNN

What do the first 24-hour cable news network and a website known for cute cat videos have in common?

Well, CNN and Buzzfeed are about to share a YouTube channel.

Buzzfeed will use CNN video to mash up the kind of compilations for which it's famous - although it's difficult to imagine how CNN news fits into common Buzzfeed topics like "12 Extremely Disappointing Facts for Geeks"  or "The Meteoric Rise of Grumpy Cat."

"If this works, these video mashups will be passed around to millions and millions of people and there will be advertising profits as well as sponsored content which Buzzfeed and CNN will then split," explained Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense-Making Project."  "It will drive audiences, particularly younger audiences, to Buzzfeed and CNN and then those companies can make money off of those audiences."

Of course, it always boils down to money. But for CNN, it's also about attracting a younger, hipper audience to continue making money in the future.

And, if you remember the strange election night holograms CNN tried to use a while back, the cable networks attempts at being cutting edge don't always work out.

"Absolutely. CNN is clearly taking the risk on this one," McBride said. "Buzzfeed has a very young audience and they don't have a lot to lose. The Wall Street Journal says they are going to invest about 10 million dollars over two years on this project. CNN has a reputation as a serious news organization and they want to build their brand with the younger demographic. When we think about CNN, we think about this organization that transformed the way journalists cover modern warfare during the first Gulf War and, in spite of some debacles recently, they're still considered a very reputable news organization."

McBride said the bigger question here is whether the kind of emotional jolt Buzzfeed's compilations deliver are actually going to deliver viewers to CNN long term.

"When I see a compilation of ten sweet children hugging baby animals, that's not a real experience that I'm having... it's not real happiness. And already I notice that a lot of people are modifying their behavior. They're becoming less likely to click on that content because the emotional payoff just isn't there. And even if they are open to being manipulated in that way, they find that the experience just isn't rewarding for them. So, because of that, I think long term on social (media) is a moving target at best."