From last week’s New York Times:
BuzzFeed started its motion picture arm in 2014. Initially, the division specialized in creating clickable video content, racking up an estimated three billion views a month. But over the last year BuzzFeed Motion Pictures has expanded its purview.
These days [BuzzFeed Motion Pictures head Matthew] Henick and his team of 42 people concentrate their energies on mining BuzzFeed articles, lists and video shorts for ideas that may be spun into feature-length movies or television series.
One of Mr. Henick’s first big deals was with Warner Bros. to make a movie out of a series of posts by the BuzzFeed staff member Matt Stopera on his travels through China in search of his lost iPhone. With the working title “Brother Orange,” it may go into production in China next year, Mr. Henick said, around the time when he and his wife, Alaina Killoch, 35, are expecting their first child.
In case you don’t read BuzzFeed or watch Ellen: Brother Orange is a man from the small southern Chinese city of Meizhou who somehow ended up in possession of an iPhone that BuzzFeed writer Matt Stopera lost in 2014. Long story short, Stopera found Brother Orange after the latter started uploading photos to his iCloud, became a Weibo celebrity, and traveled to Meizhou, where the two became fast friends. Ellen and Britney Spears figure into the story later on. Read it all here.
BuzzFeed has invested heavily in the video side of their content stream since 2014, and now, per the NYT article, are angling to enter the motion picture industry. Seems a smart and prescient move, and the fact that they’re incorporating China into their production schedule early on shows the importance of the audience here for their future ambitions.
In a roundabout way, this reflects a process also at work in China: large internet and media companies driving the entertainment sector. Both Tencent (WeChat, QQ) and Alibaba (Taobao, Alipay) have invested widely in film production in recent years, and scored unexpected successes in China with A Dog’s Life (which was backed by Alibaba and took in $88 million dollars in China box office sales) and Warcraft: The Beginning (Tencent backed, and a film that bombed everywhere but China, where it raked in a walloping $213 million).
In a recent article for China Law Blog, industry observer Matthew Dresden shares insights he gleaned at a recent talk by Tencent’s Li Chia-Chi:
the reason Warcraft was successful in China (and nowhere else) is because Tencent had so much data about its users that it could identify nearly every single Warcraft player in China and could push targeted ads and marketing material to them. Similarly, the reason A Dog’s Purpose did so well in China is because Alibaba had so much data about its users that they already knew the identity of every dog-owning household in China.
Seems that big data, news, media and entertainment are merging together in this weird new world we’re building, and as with many emerging trends, China is the testing ground of choice for spinning out new ideas.
Cover photo: Buzzfeed