BuzzFeed normally boasts about the billions of views that its viral videos, quizzes and listicles generate. But the digital-media player has also seen success, albeit so far fairly limited, in producing and selling long-form entertainment.
BuzzFeed’s “You Do Two,” the second season of its “You Do You” comedy series featuring popular young female characters from its BuzzFeed Violet sketches, hit the No. 1 spot on Apple’s iTunes chart for TV comedies shortly after it was released on June 26. As of Wednesday, the eight-episode show had dropped to No. 15 on the iTunes chart — but it’s still ahead of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” season 2, TBS’s “Angie Tribeca” season 1 and CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” season 9.
Of course, that should be weighed against the fact that “You Do Two” is available only on digital, whereas the other shows previously aired on TV. But to Matthew Henick, head of development for BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, the traction the show has gotten on iTunes, as well as Google Play and Amazon Video, illustrates that the company has opportunities to build bigger entertainment franchises and market them to its global audience.
“This isn’t the ultimate and only way we want to tell (BuzzFeed) Violet stories going forward. This was around a specific character set and stories,” Henick said. “But when we invest more in a production, we’ll likely take it transactional… It’s quicker payback.”
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BuzzFeed launched the first season of “You Do You” on iTunes in November 2015, where it remained in the No. 1 spot on the TV chart for a full week. For the second season, the company made the episodes longer — ranging from 8 to 15 minutes — for a total runtime of about 90 minutes, up from 44 minutes the first season. “It’s movie-length,” Henick said. “We really upped the time per episode and spent a little more on production based on fan feedback.”
Interestingly, while season 1 has been released in its entirety for free on YouTube, BuzzFeed has seen a lift in sales of the first season of “You Do You” on iTunes ahead of the “You Do Two” premiere. On iTunes, the current season is available to purchase only as a full season for $4.99 in HD and $3.99 in SD; season 1 is $2.99. (Henick declined to reveal sales figures for either season.)
“People were asking to watch ‘You Do You’ in a different way – they wanted to binge-watch it,” said Ashly Perez, producer of “You Do Two” and a featured actor in the series. The show on YouTube, she pointed out, also carries ads.
BuzzFeed has marketed the series across the BuzzFeed Violet fanbase. That include 2.86 million subscribers on YouTube (where the first two episodes of “You Do Two” were posted for free on June 28 and have more than 1 million views so far) and 1.43 million on Facebook. And the company has cross-promoted the show on other BuzzFeed properties like recipe-centric Tasty.
The show’s popularity may or may not have been affected by recent controversy: In June BuzzFeed fired Brittany Ashley, who had worked on “You Do You” and wrote the script for the first season, as well as writer-producer-actor Jenny Lorenzo for allegedly violating their exclusive contracts with the company after they appeared in a web series produced by America Ferrara, according to a Politico report.
“You Do Two” features the series’ four twentysomething women whose friendship is tested by life events. Ella has a new job, Quinta has a new apartment, Sara a newfound fame and Ashly a new love interest.
It’s a fairly conventional soap-opera format. But Perez, 26, who describes herself as “an LGBT woman of color,” said the goal with the two “You Do You” series wasn’t to explore “how can we be completely different from television – it was, let’s make content that felt authentic to me. I don’t think we’re trying to reinvent the wheel about what makes good television.”
“We didn’t make this so we could sell it,” Perez added. “It was us responding to the audience to give them longer-form content.”
BuzzFeed Violet’s videos are usually produced in a week. The “You Do Two” series took about six months from conception to release; the 100-page script, by a team of eight writers, took 19 full days to shoot (versus a little under 11 days for the first season).
“We broke it more like a movie than a TV season, so the viewing experience is more seamless,” said Perez. The second season of the show “is more about growing up. As our audience grows up, we’re growing up as producers, writers and actors.”