UPDATED: After building their careers as internet personalities at BuzzFeed, the creators and hosts of three of the company’s biggest shows — Steven Lim, Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej — have formed their own digital-video venture.
They quit BuzzFeed earlier this year and founded L.A.-based Watcher Entertainment, with the trio looking to get full creative control and ownership of their videos. The digital studio startup is producing very BuzzFeed-y original unscripted content, which they plan to debut in January 2020 initially on YouTube.
While they have left BuzzFeed as full-time employees, the three of them currently have contracts with BuzzFeed to continue working on “Worth It” and “Unsolved” alongside their launch of Watcher Entertainment.
“I wanted to move on to other creative opportunities that I wasn’t going to be afforded at BuzzFeed,” said Bergara. In addition, “We wanted actual ownership of the content we make. Intellectual property is pretty much everything right now.”
The BuzzFeed shows they launched, produced and starred in — “Worth It,” “Unsolved” and “Ruining History” — have a combined 2 billion views to date, representing 15 billion minutes of watch time. Along the way, Lim, Bergara and Madej have each amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.
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“Luckily we have very supportive fanbases who keep an eye on the stuff we do,” said Madej. “Hopefully a lot of them will be excited about this new venture.”
Bergara and Madej are executive producers and hosts of BuzzFeed’s “Unsolved,” exploring true-crime cases and other mysteries, and Lim is behind BuzzFeed’s “Worth It,” comparing different restaurants at varying price points to determine which is the best value for money. Meanwhile, Madej also was the brainchild and host of “Ruining History,” looking at bizarre and surprising historic events.
“It was important for us to maintain a good relationship with BuzzFeed as we went to form this,” Bergara said.
For BuzzFeed, seeing talent leave to strike out on their own after rising to prominence through its shows is a trend that goes back several years.
“BuzzFeed works with talent at all stages of their careers — supporting new faces, BuzzFeed alums and everyone in between,” said Thespena Guatieri, BuzzFeed’s director of show development. “We are excited to continue working with Steven, Ryan and Shane in a new capacity as they pursue endeavors outside of BuzzFeed.”
Watcher Entertainment is majority-owned by the three founders. They also have received an undisclosed amount of funding from Neuro, a company that sells caffeinated energy gum and mints; Boba Guys, a bubble-milk tea chain startup; and Steve Chen, one of YouTube’s co-founders.
Neuro and Boba Guys are planning to advertise in Watcher’s new content. But the studio’s founders say their shows are not solely going to comprise product pitches from the investors. According to Lim, “From the very beginning, their investment was more of a belief in us rather than us featuring their products on our channel.”
Watcher Entertainment plans to debut seven new series and a weekly interactive talk show next year, spanning food, travel, horror, and other topics. The launch slate includes “Homemade,” a food show hosted by Lim geared around home cooking; “Grocery Run,” in which people shop for food on a $100 budget; “Weird (And/Or) Wonderful World With Shane and Ryan,” looking at whimsical and odd historical events and strange areas of interest; “Puppet History,” featuring puppets relaying historical facts; “Tourist Trapped,” in which Shane and Ryan explore a city through two different perspectives; “Top 5 Beatdown,” a talk show in which hosts and guests compare top-five lists; and “Spooky Small Talk,” in which Bergara interviews people in a haunted house.
Besides monetizing their content through sponsorships and ad revenue, the Watcher team hopes to license their shows to streaming services. BuzzFeed’s “Worth It” and “Unsolved,” for example, are available on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video in addition to YouTube.
The founders have spent the last six months producing the first batch of shows and have about four episodes for each series, which will roll out weekly. “We’re going to spend first six months piloting shows,” said Lim.
Watch the startup’s announcement trailer below (or at this link):
Pictured above (l. to r.): Steven Lim, Ryan Bergara, Shane Madej