By Jessica Toonkel
(Reuters) - Online media companies ATTN:, BuzzFeed and Group Nine Media are making a bigger push into television, executives said, aiming to grab more of the TV advertising market and depend less on social media for viewers.
While the companies have long lured audiences through social media like Facebook Inc, that has made them vulnerable to changes that could bury their content. TV also offers the opportunity for revenue from licensing shows domestically and abroad.
Three-year-old ATTN:, which draws more than half of viewers for its videos on current events from Facebook, is in development on two pilots. It has sold a pilot of a documentary-style news show to CBS Corp's Showtime and is co-producing a series called "America Versus" with Viacom Inc's new Paramount Network, Matt Segal, ATTN:'s chief executive, told Reuters.
As digital media becomes more competitive, television is a crucial next step for companies like BuzzFeed, which announced layoffs for 100 employees last year amid reports it missed revenue targets, executives said.
Group Nine and BuzzFeed already have shows on air or scheduled with networks owned by their respective investors Discovery Communications and Comcast Corp's NBCUniversal, and are now pitching pilots to other networks, executives told Reuters.
Facebook recently changed its news feed to favor posts from friends and family of its more than 2 billion users over content shared by publishers, underscoring the risk of depending too much on third-party social media.
"Our weakness is we don't own those platforms and that's just the reality," said Ben Lerer, CEO of New York-based Group Nine, which owns travel brand Thrillist, video news creator NowThis and animal video site The Dodo. "This is a way of gaining revenue outside of that ecosystem."
Television also offers a much more lucrative advertising market, executives said, even as viewers increasingly cancel cable subscriptions in favor of online streaming services like Netflix Inc.
Spending on TV spots is expected to be $72 billion this year, compared to $15.4 billion for digital ad spending, according to market researcher eMarketer.
Los Angeles-based ATTN: always planned to get into TV and expects to bring in seven figures of ad revenue this year if its pilots get picked up, said Segal.
Segal declined to comment on how much ad revenue the company brings in now, but said it would also earn fees from licensing shows to partners in the United States and abroad.
"Television is going to bring us more ad revenue and brand lift," he said.
I WANT MY TV
Vice Media was the first digital media company to get into TV with its own show on HBO, as well as its own channel, Viceland.
Vice News Tonight brought in on average 174,000 viewers between the ages of 18-49 in 2017, compared to 130,000 the previous year, according to Nielsen.
ATTN:'s pilot with Showtime is a documentary-style series that addresses topics like politics, socioeconomics, and the war on drugs.
"America Versus," ATTN:'s show it is developing with Paramount Network, will take topics like binge drinking and look at them in the United States versus other countries, Segal said.
Group Nine's The Dodo will premier its first TV series, "Dodo Heroes," featuring people who save animals in need, with Discovery's Animal Planet this year.
BuzzFeed is shopping a game show to a number of broadcast networks, which would be the first time it has a show outside of NBC networks, said Matthew Henick, head of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. BuzzFeed recently announced a documentary series with NBC's Oxygen network.
"It used to be with digital you were just hoping to work within an algorithm where viewers are going to go," Henick said. "Now people know what to expect if they go to a BuzzFeed News show."
(Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Anna Driver and Meredith Mazzilli)