You’ll likely spend 15 seconds or less skimming this article.
But by uploading video, polls and a millennial flair for image GIFs, Israeli start-up Playbuzz claims it coaxes readers into staying on a webpage for two to four minutes on average, unheard of in the digital publishing industry.
“If you only skip through and you maybe got the headline, you won’t share it [on social media],” said Yael Shafrir, Playbuzz’s vice president for international partnerships. “But if you really understood what we’re talking about, you’ve also voted your opinion on it, then you will tend to share it, and then we believe that it will create a better understanding of reality. Of course, this will also generate more revenue, and it generates a vision of a better world.”
As an Israeli start-up success story, the Tel Aviv-based digital storytelling platform raised some $35 million last month in a consortium led by Viola Growth fund and joined by Disney. A number of other Fortune 500 companies use Playbuzz’s platform, including news and video sites such as Netflix, Fox, NBC, ESPN, ABC and Huffington Post.
Some 13,000 publishers and brands use Playbuzz’s platform, and the company garners more than one billion page views per month.
Playbuzz, which shared a Digiday Award with the Huffington Post for their post-Brexit explanatory journalism, explains current events issue in an engaging and interactive way – such as by letting the viewer click on a graphic image of a terrorist attack or choosing to keep it hidden. In these ways, the company seduces users into spending more time hunched over their smartphones.
Such persuasive power portends responsibility.
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Many of the company’s clients don’t necessarily offer hard news but rather, sports news, celebrity gossip and product advertising. Company executives demurred when asked if Playbuzz was contributing to an epidemic of smartphone addiction.
“People are addicted to their screens anyhow,” Shafrir said.
“For my 14-year-old daughter, she reads books on a special app on her iPhone. This doesn’t mean that she’s a shallow person. She reads four to five books per month on the smartphone.
“I don’t think we’re addicting people further. People are getting addicted if they want to, or if they’re bound to. At Playbuzz, we allow people to further enrich their content- consumption experience. It allows the publishers’ readers to get more loyal. We’re just a tool.”
The ongoing race by everyone from advertisers to news outlets to capture your eyeballs and steal your time may be inevitable. With newspapers facing a dire collapse in advertising revenue – from classifieds migrating to Craigslist, coupled with Google and Facebook hogging revenue – video, branded content and native advertising could help balance the books and keep the Fourth Estate in business.
Branded advertising campaigns launched by Playbuzz manage to penetrate 65% of users on average, while the industry standard lags behind at 24%.
To address privacy concerns, Playbuzz claims it fully anonymizes data while still personalizing and optimizing advertising by collecting that data whenever as user participates in a poll or browses the web.
Yet the company also announced it was running an advertising campaign for Clalit, an Israeli HMO, targeting pregnant and expectant mothers. It is likely that Playbuzz is able to isolate such a specific audience by using web search data to pinpoint the demographic, but it’s unclear if pregnant women agreed to have their private searches be monetized.
The digital entertainment platform has raised some $66 million to date and employs 160 people worldwide, including 100 who work out of the company’s Sarona Market headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Established in December 2012, Playbuzz’s co-founders are Tom Pachys and Shaul Olmert – the former prime minister’s son.