There’s been a lot of chatter on the internet recently, especially in media circles, about the massive list-making web content giant Buzzfeed. The New York based media company has been dominating page views (and most likely your Facebook feed) with their secret sauce of highly clickable quizzes, GIF lists, and writing by some of today’s most influential young journalists. More recently, the content king has set its sights on a new frontier, the world of online video. The company’s West Coast division, under the direction of online video pioneer Ze Frank, has been rapidly expanding its foothold in the viral video arena, but is Buzzfeed contributing to the medium or just swing ideas from the web’s best creators? Recent comments from The Fine Brothers have called some of Buzzfeed’s tactics into question.
— thefinebros (@thefinebros) March 4, 2015
In response to a recently released video from Buzzfeed’s digital studio the Fine Brothers tweeted: “This is just going too far. Sad day for the web community They (Buzzfeed) clearly are not #TeamInternet” Allegations of plagiarism have dogged Buzzfeed’s editorial division for years, but this is the first time a major creator has pointed the finger at Buzzfeed’s video team.
The video in question, “Teens Watch 90’s Music Videos For The First Time” does notably resemble a typical edition of the Fine’s popular “Teens React” series, right down to the color pallet. It plays on familiar themes, by asking teens to watch and comment on a nostalgic piece of pop culture. It’s a format that the Fine Brothers pioneered on YouTube, and Buzzfeed’s video would look right at home next to memorable Fine Brother’s videos like “Teens React To Saved By The Bell” and “Teens React To 90’s Internet”
Buzzfeed has been accused of plagiarizing or at least borrowing liberally from other creators in the past, particularly during the growth phase that made them the dominant name in web content. One highly public incident last year lead to the dismissal of staff writer Benny Johnson and a lengthy apology from Buzzfeed Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith. The incident suggests that, at the very least, the company was lax about policing for plagiarism when Buzzfeed was in its infancy. It stands to reason that it might employ a similarly laissez-faire approach when it comes to growing its fledgling video division.
The Fines aren’t the first content creators to call out Buzzfeed for ripping off their ideas. Twitter personality Jon Hendren has made numerous similar allegations in recent years.
q: why does @buzzfeed steal so much stuff? a: it is their business model and they do it knowingly
As a media outlet, Buzzfeed owes much of its success to having a finger on the pulse of web trends and mining those trends for content. For that reason alone, it’s highly unlikely that they would be unfamiliar with the work of prolific and prominent web creators like the Fine Brothers. Do these videos constitute a form of plagiarism, or is Buzzfeed simply adapting to the YouTube medium by following a proven format? One thing is clear, with over 1.88 million views to date for “Teens Watch 90s Music Videos For The First Time” the strategy is clearly working.