News aggregator Jinri Toutiao has tied the knot with American media outlet BuzzFeed, reaching an agreement to share the latter’s content on its platform, according to an official press release. The move comes amid increasing scrutiny of online content from China’s media regulators.
ByteDance, Toutiao’s parent company, will publish BuzzFeed’s videos to hundreds of millions of users across multiple platforms, according to a statement released Thursday. The financial details of the licensing deal have not been disclosed.
BuzzFeed, known for its fun and often viral content, will have to “jump through some regulatory hoops” to be successful in China, said Shaun Rein, founder of the Shanghai-based consulting firm China Market Research Group and author of the book “The War for China’s Wallet.”
“The risks are really high, to be honest,” Rein told Sixth Tone. In addition to creating eye-catching content, he added, BuzzFeed does not tend to shy away from tackling weighty political issues.
But any sacrifices the American news organization may have to make will almost certainly be worthwhile, Jeffrey Towson, a professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, told Sixth Tone. While quite popular in the U.S., BuzzFeed has struggled to break into China, Towson explained, because so much of its content is shared on Facebook and YouTube — both of which are blocked in China. BuzzFeed’s official account on Twitter-like platform Weibo, meanwhile, was created in 2015 but has just 6,600 followers. It has not posted since August 2017.
By partnering with Toutiao, BuzzFeed is likely to bolster its revenue and reverse its recent downturn, said Towson. The platform laid off around 100 employees in the U.S. last year, and the Wall Street Journal reported that a person familiar with the matter predicted BuzzFeed would fall short of its 2017 revenue target of $350 million by 15 to 20 percent.
The collaboration also comes at a challenging time for Toutiao, which has found itself in media regulators’ crosshairs of late. In December, China’s cyberspace administration shut the site down for 24 hours for “spreading pornographic and vulgar content.” After the official slap on the wrist, Toutiao announced that it would hire 2,000 “content review editors” to prevent the problem from recurring. And in a bid for greater transparency, the company plans to release a report detailing its content-management policies next week.
China, with its 750 million content-consuming net users, has seen no shortage of Western suitors in recent years. Originally, the country “was not in BuzzFeed’s business plan,” said Towson. “But the stars aligned, and a nice deal fell into BuzzFeed’s lap.”
The New York-headquartered media company isn’t the first to partner with a Chinese counterpart to break into the world’s largest media market. In April of last year, video-streaming site Netflix signed a deal with iQIYI, which offers a similar service in China, to stream content through its platforms.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: VCG)