BuzzFeed is one of the most clickable places on the internet for listicles, highlighting hilarious internet content, and providing digestible news to an audience with dwindling attention spans. In 2013, Disney wanted in on that in terms of a mutually beneficial partnership.
Former BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith uses his new book, Traffic, to discuss the mega-merger that never happened.
The Walt Disney Company is the behemoth of America’s entertainment and media industry, and BuzzFeed stood to profit from funding, advertising revenue, and brand recognition. The Walt Disney Company, on the other hand, needed to catch up with how to communicate with audiences in a quick and modern way. ABC News, owned by the Walt Disney Company, was becoming stale and wanted to attract a younger audience.
Basically, Disney needed to conquer its place on the internet. A $600 million deal would create “online only” modernized Disney characters amongst other things. They met at Disney’s Burbank studios, and BuzzFeed’s representatives were enticed by a chance to learn from Disney CEO Bob Iger, calling him the “most successful CEO in modern media.”
Some were worried that Disney’s stifling corporate culture would hurt their independence, but others felt it was too good an offer to pass up. The deal was supposedly a “no brainer” and was all set to go through with money negotiated and hands shaken, but one of the partners decided that he just couldn’t do it.
BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti decided that the thing he cared most about was his and his employee’s freedom within the company. He admitted to Iger that his “heart wasn’t in it,” just as celebrations of the merger were about to begin. Bob Iger was reportedly livid and blindsided, already thinking everything was a done deal. Iger’s words were “F— him, he loses, that company will never be worth what it would have been worth with us.”
Turns out, Iger was right. Peretti made a mistake that author Ben Smith calls the “dumbest in the history of digital media.” Today, BuzzFeed is struggling, closing it news department just this week. Social media didn’t completely monopolize the internet like they had thought, and it was way too late for Disney.
The deal ended up being a train wreck for Bob Iger and Disney short term, but an even bigger disaster for BuzzFeed Inc. long term.
Read the full excerpt of Ben Smith’s book from Variety.