What the Independent and BuzzFeed UK tie-up means

What the Independent and BuzzFeed UK tie-up means

The Independent is exploring a licensing deal with BuzzFeed in the UK.

This would be a multi-year “strategic partnership” rather than a full merger or acquisition, The Media Leader understands.

As part of the agreement, The Independent would assume all editorial and commercial control of BuzzFeed’s UK brands, including HuffPost UK, Seasoned and Tasty, with BuzzFeed’s staff moving into The Independent’s office.

Meanwhile, the BuzzFeed group would continue to provide global content, as well as tech and strategic support to The Independent. It is expected that content will be shared between the two businesses in the UK and US markets.

The Independent and BuzzFeed have been approached for comment.

Analysis: Better together?

BuzzFeed, co-founded in 2006 by Jonah Peretti, who remains its CEO, was seen as the darling of digital media, making celebrities of its creators and attracting a younger audience across video, social media and online.

LadBible, Vice and Huffington Post had a similar cache with these audiences and were once considered future-facing publishers. All of them in the past year have faced restructure, lay-offs and/or shareholder concerns, with BuzzFeed laying off 15% of its staff and shuttering its news division.

Broughton and Peretti


There are several factors behind the waning fortunes of these digital publishers. The most notable of which are a tougher advertising market and social media companies, in particular Meta, changing their rules around referring traffic and deprioritising news content on their platforms.

Digital publishers are also facing uncertainty around advertiser targeting and user tracking after Google began its deprecation of third-party cookies this year.

In addition, the UK is in recession and continues to battle a long-running cost-of-living crisis that has been affecting consumers’ disposable income and, in turn, advertiser budgets.

In light of these factors, the partnership would seem to reflect that it is better for publishers to operate together than apart.

The Independent is the largest all-digital news publisher in the US and the UK, while BuzzFeed can offer advertisers better access to Gen Z and millennial audiences.

More than scale needed

Adam Foley, CEO of Bountiful Cow, thought the deal looked like “a very sensible partnership” with brands that “fit well together” to offer advertisers more scale and data, with great creative opportunities across the platforms.

However, in order to succeed, the tie-up “will need to address a bigger challenge”.

“The last 10 years have taught us that the relationship between digital publishing and advertising is rarely a happy one. Ever-increasing scale and data are not the silver bullet that we once thought,” he told The Media Leader.

“Advertising pounds do not necessarily follow unique users. The sad recent decline of Reach, who have seen that compromising the reader experience for heavy ad loads and data collection has not resulted in commercial return, should tell us that there’s not necessarily safety in numbers. Scale alone is not the answer.”

Foley added that part of issue is the “continued reliance” on standard IAB formats and the open marketplace, neither of which “tends to result in memorable advertising”.

He stressed that what The Independent and BuzzFeed titles, and most publishers in general, share is the “powerful connection” they build with their readership. Therefore, news brands in particular should be “focused on an advertising experience that does justice to that relationship”.

Foley concluded: “It’s better for 1m people to see something memorable and powerful than for 10m people to flick past something they barely notice. Publishers need to dream up some new formats to deliver that connection. I’d love to see this partnership rise to that challenge.”

Diversification drive

Another factor behind this partnership could be the push to diversify revenue streams. Publishers have been increasingly focused on this as pressures mount on their operations. Consumer publishers expect subscriptions, audio, podcasts and ecommerce to be the biggest drivers of growth in the next three years, according to a survey by the Association of Online Publishers).

Meanwhile, some UK publishers are eyeing global expansion, particularly into the US, with prominent players including News UK.

Last year, The Independent appointed Christian Broughton as its CEO to “lead the title to the next stage of growth and diversification”. He succeeded Zach Leonard, who became global chief operating officer and president, North America, as the UK media group began a phase of expansion.

Collaborating with BuzzFeed could provide The Independent with content beyond traditional news, such as influencer-led food videos on social platforms via Tasty. In return, BuzzFeed would fill a spot left vacant by the closure of its news department.

The Fishbowl: Caroline Fenner, BuzzFeed

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