BuzzFeed is selling a smartphone-connected hot plate because media is hard
It’s one thing to pivot to video, it’s quite another to pivot to kitchenware.
The former, video, has become a major trend and a dark, running joke in the media world. As media outlets continue to struggle to justify the economics of the digital world, video beckons as a better option.
BuzzFeed does plenty of video, but for arguably the biggest and most experimental media startup, that’s not enough. The company has been experimenting with launching products and on Thursday revealed its most aggressive move yeta Tasty-branded smartphone-connected hot plate.
Tasty is BuzzFeed’s food brand, and it’s one of the company’s biggest bright spots. The brand is huge online, but has already translated into a real-world success with its bestselling cookbook.
Now, it’s taking that playbookcapitalizing on a popular online brand with retail opportunitiesa big step forward.
“This is, if nothing else… the most complex thing we’ve ever built,” said Ben Kaufman, head of BuzzFeed’s Product Labs.
The hot plate (or maybe cooktop?), produced in conjunction with GE, is as advanced and internet-enabled as you’d expect something from BuzzFeed to be. The hot plate is operated via smartphone through the Tasty app, which lets users know just how hot their plate is. There’s also a connected thermometer to measure the temperature of whatever’s in the pan or pata feature that Kaufman said means the hot plate can do everything from sous vide to cooking steak.
It retails for $149 and, at least for now, is only available through BuzzFeed.
“My favorite thing about it is this thing does make a perfect steak. It makes a mean steak,” Kaufman said.
BuzzFeed launched its product lab in November after acquiring Kaufman’s startup, Scroll. Since then, the lab has produced a variety of off-center products including candles, cutting boards, and T-shirtssome of which are produced within hours of conception in hopes of taking advantage of viral phrases or memes.
After President Donald Trump called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage,” the website was offering shirts with the slogan that same day.
BuzzFeed’s push into ecommerce is the most aggressive version of a wider push by media companies looking to add ways to make money that aren’t low-end display ads. Video has become the de facto way for media companies to go (MTV News, Vocativ, Fox Sports just to name a few in recent months), but it’s not the only way.
Selling stuff, either through affiliate links or by actually producing goods, remains a growing part of the new media playbook. There’s not many success stories just yet, though bro-tastic website The Chive has grown its commerce play into a legitimate business.
That’s the kind of thing BuzzFeed could use. The company is reportedly preparing to go public in 2018, which means it will need to have its finances in order. Like every digital media startup, its been a bumpy road the last few years. It was big news in 2016 when the media company slashed its revenue forecast.
BuzzFeed declined to share how much of its revenue now comes from ecommerce. The hot plate, however, highlights BuzzFeed’s willingness to make bigger bets on products and other weird ideas in hopes of finding ever-newer ways of bringing in money.
“We don’t really have a five year strategic road map. We have the blessing of this amazing company to experiment and take our leanings to bring them to other parts of the business,” Kaufman said.