BuzzFeed Video Architect Ze Frank to Exit (Exclusive)

Ze Frank Headshot - P 2014
Macey J Foronda for BuzzFeed

Ze Frank Headshot - P 2014

Frank, who has been serving as the head of research and development at BuzzFeed since 2018, will remain an adviser to the company.

One of BuzzFeed's longtime executives is leaving the company. 

Ze Frank, a key architect of BuzzFeed's video business who has served as chief research and development officer for the last year, is stepping down from his role, CEO Jonah Peretti announced in a memo sent to staff Friday. 

"BuzzFeed wouldn't be BuzzFeed without Ze's contributions," Peretti wrote, announcing that Frank had decided "to move on to new challenges beyond BuzzFeed." The executive, who is said to have been contemplating his next move for a while, will stay on as an adviser. 

"It’s been an unbelievable ride and I'm very grateful to Jonah and everyone I've had the privilege of working with along the way — especially the wildly talented new leaders who will carry BuzzFeed forward," Frank tells THR

Frank's departure comes after a period of change at BuzzFeed. In the seven years since Frank first joined the company, it has revamped and reorganized its video and entertainment group multiple times. In January, BuzzFeed conducted a large-scale restructuring that included laying off around 15 percent of the workforce. As part of the shift, two of Frank's teams — the talent-centric Creator Program and the animation focused Media Labs — were moved under new leadership. In addition, most of BuzzFeed's non-studio entertainment operations, including brands like Tasty, video, were moved under a new content group overseen by publisher Dao Nguyen. 

Peretti wrote in the goodbye memo that Frank "has made sure the things he's built will continue to thrive in the future," and that he served as a mentor to many BuzzFeed staffers. "Ze is one of a kind and can never be replaced, but shards of his brilliance have permeated the entire company and inspired so many of us to do better work," Peretti said. "He has shown us how to drive creativity through formal constraints, how to make content with a playfulness that drives the obsession fandoms and communities, how to work backwards from insights about human behavior to help our audience scratch the itch they didn’t even know they had, and how to combine platform knowledge with a deep understanding of the quirks of the human mind to delight millions of people."

After finding early viral fame for his personal website and, later, his shortform series the show, Frank sold his video startup to BuzzFeed in 2012 and launched the company's Los Angeles-based video business, where he focused on experimenting with new forms of social content. After a string of viral hits, he started BuzzFeed Motion Pictures in 2014 to develop a range of projects — from short clips to feature films. He ran the Los Angeles-based group, which grew to some 300 people though was slow to get Hollywood projects off the ground, until 2016 when he took on more oversight as president of the Entertainment Group.

In January 2018, BuzzFeed announced that Frank would move into a new role as chief research and development officer that included leading a 12-person team that would experiment with new video formats and emerging platforms. He also established the Creators Program, a response to its early talent development program that has since grown to more than two dozen creators, including Curly Velasquez of YouTube channel Pero Like. That is now under the leadership of the business division. In addition, he oversaw the Media Labs group, which developed animated properties like Instagram character Good Advice Cupcake and Weird Helga, that now reports to chief marketing officer Ben Kaufman. 

About a year ago Frank quietly began posting new videos to his YouTube channel, which has 2.4 million subscribers. The series, called True Facts, has focused on unusual animals like the frogfish and the Bobbit worm.

"Wherever he goes next will be lucky to have a leader like Ze," Peretti noted. "We'll be rooting for him, but I hope for our sake he goes to a BuzzFeed partner and not a competitor."