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Mip 2015: BuzzFeed’s Ze Frank to Deliver Digital Biz Keynote

Will Hollywood’s future blockbusters arise from the fast-churning oceans of the Internet?

Ze Frank, president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, the digital-video arm the Internet publisher formed last summer, believes that — for his company’s youth-skewing audience, anyway — content development will be quicker and more iterative than the way studios have historically operated.

Oh, and also: Content’s going to be a lot cheaper to create.

Frank, who’s been creating original Internet content for more than a decade, is set to deliver a keynote April 14 at the Mip Digital Fronts in Cannes together with producer Michael Shamberg (“Django Unchained”), who has been working as a consultant with BuzzFeed for more than a year.

“We’re in the middle of this dialogue about what content creation is now, what talent is now,” Frank says. “Social is obviously a massive driver.”

BuzzFeed has a team of 170 people creating videos — producing an average of 50 pieces of scripted and non-scripted content each week — in about 25,000 square feet of production space, largely in L.A. The 8-year-old shingle, which labels itself “the social news and entertainment company,” last year raised $50 million in funding from venture capitalist Andreessen Horowitz.

One key initiative from that infusion was the formation of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures in August. The lofty-sounding appellation encompasses the company’s current and future original digital-video businesses. Recent popular shortform BuzzFeed videos include comedy bits like “Breakup Sex” and “The Weirdest Lies Parents Tell Their Kids.” But eventually, Frank says, his group’s purview could include TV-length shows or even feature films.

BuzzFeed enlisted Shamberg to get his guidance on whether the model used to produce TV and movie features is compatible with digital. Shamberg isn’t terribly optimistic that’s possible. “Finding ideas in Hollywood is a long, dry process — you hire a screenwriter and they go off and write a script for 12 weeks — and 90% of that dies,” he says. “None of the future of content production is being done that way.”

On the other hand, entertainment fundamentally rests on the nuts and bolts of strong storytelling. “The classic skills of Hollywood are never going to go away,” Shamberg says. “But the whole thing about BuzzFeed is not just people watching, but people sharing.”

Digital producers are more willing to experiment and produce material more economically. BuzzFeed’s strategy is geared toward a fixed-cost model, so that, for example, sets can be repurposed multiple times instead of being broken down and re-created from scratch every time.

“We are very influenced by the idea that you can strike out variable costs,” Frank says.

Adds Shamberg: “Hollywood doesn’t adapt for creative reasons. They adapt for revenue reasons.”

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