Twitter's making a big push into live video, with deals for pro sports, talk shows, network TV premieres and more. But what does a real newscast look like if you rethink it for Twitter? BuzzFeed's AM to DM offers a possible answer — and it's a fun one.
I should say up front that I'm super-biased here, even by the debased standards of media writing about media. One of the show's hosts, Saeed Jones, was my roommate a few years ago, while the other, Isaac Fitzgerald, is a close friend. (He was the one who suggested that Jones and I should live together.)
Still, I was far from the only one watching after the show premiered last week. AM to DM was trending on Twitter, reaching #1 in the U.S. and #4 globally. In fact, BuzzFeed says the show averaged about 1 million unique viewers each day, with clips being viewed a total of 10 million times. And it's a young audience, with 78 percent of daily live viewers under 35.
How many of those viewers are actually watching entire episodes? BuzzFeed says it doesn't know yet, but the 1 million number includes both people who watched the full hour and just tuned in for shorter segments.
The company also pointed to tweets of people watching at work, at school and just listening to the audio while walking or working. For their part, producer Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale and her hosts seem perfectly comfortable with the idea that the audience can watch however much or little of the show as they want, wherever they are, on whatever device.
— AM to DM (@AM2DM) October 4, 2017
Given its name, and the fact that it airs from 10am to 11am Eastern each morning (with a repeat broadcast at noon), you might think that AM to DM is basically a mashup between a traditional morning news show and social media. That's not entirely wrong, at least in my opinion, but Vanegas-Gesuale pushed back against the idea that the team was looking at something like Good Morning America or Today as inspiration.
"We're on in the morning — that's it as far as similarity to morning shows," Vanegas-Gesuale said.
Instead, she argued that the key to the AM to DM format is the engagement with viewers through Twitter, and the personality of its two hosts — who were previously editors at BuzzFeed and also real life friends.
Both elements were on display when I dropped by the BuzzFeed offices to see the filming of the final episode last week. In the breaks between live segments, Jones and Fitzgerald were constantly checking their phones for tweets to quote while on-air. At one point, Fitzgerald simply read news headlines while Jones reacted wordlessly. At another, author Maureen Johnson was gave a hilarious, deadpan interview as someone who viewers should be following on Twitter.
So it's different in the sense that so much of the content comes from Twitter. But it feels like a morning show in the way that the tone is mostly fun and chatty, with a healthy dose of celebrity interviews.
That doesn't mean AM to DM avoids covering substantive news stories, too. In fact, one of the mandates for the first week was to coordinate with BuzzFeed reporters to break news on-the-air.
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) October 4, 2017
For example, reporter Alex Kantrowitz came on the show last Tuesday to talk about his story about "dark" political advertising on Twitter. (BuzzFeed also pointed to that story as a sign that the show has editorial independence from Twitter, even though it was created through a financial partnership between the two companies.) And AM to DM took a much more serious, straight news-style approach when covering the mass shootings earlier this week.
Next up? Well, Vanegas-Gesuale estimated that 90 percent of the show is currently scripted, rehearsed or otherwise planned ahead of time, and Fitzgerald said he'd like to see that number go down, with the show incorporating even more real-time interaction with viewers.
"When you see your insight or your humor or your cute dog honored and go viral, you engage more," Jones added. "If this show is popping off, we want to be a part of that."