BuzzFeed Wants to Make a Modern Morning TV Show Work

Saeed Jones and Isaac Fitzgerald Hosts of BuzzFeed News AMtoDM - Publicity - H 2017
Drew Reynolds

The one-hour show streams live on Twitter and debuts on Monday.

Shani Hilton, head of U.S. news for BuzzFeed, thinks the morning show format that's been a staple of broadcast television for decades is stale and a little too predictable. "You know what's going to happen," she said. "It doesn't jive with the Internet."

So, Hilton is now overseeing an hourlong morning show that BuzzFeed brass thinks will be a more authentic, modern version of the television classic. The show, AM to DM, will stream live on Twitter starting on Monday.

Rather than airing at the crack of dawn like most TV morning shows, BuzzFeed's show will start at 10 a.m. ET, which editor Ben Smith said is quite intentional. Millennials are a bit less likely than their parents to be interested in watching something that starts so early, he reasoned. 

And how is BuzzFeed thinking about the show's potential audience? "One thing we know about them is that they're on Twitter, which is to say that they're maniacs," Smith said.

During a rehearsal for the show's launch at BuzzFeed headquarters on Thursday morning, AM to DM co-host Saeed Jones answered a viewer question about why the show isn't on Facebook by saying that "it's not just on Twitter, it's for Twitter." That explains why some of the show's segments — including "Fire Tweets" and "@ Us" — are in-jokes that will only make sense to people who spend a lot of time on the site.

In some sense, though, the show is not that far from a traditional morning show, particularly the more modern ones that aim to fold in feedback from social media and to operate more in "Internet time." (Although a spokesman said BuzzFeed hopes to be "the hottest show airing in the 10 a.m. hour," it's hard to match the audience of a linear morning show like the fourth hour of NBC's Today show.)

Jones and his co-host, Isaac Fitzgerald, started Thursday's rehearsal by running down a list of major news stories, including the devastating earthquake in Mexico and the shooting of a deaf man in Oklahoma. The hosts, who seem to actually be friends in real life, read occasionally off a teleprompter but also mixed in more off-the-cuff commentary.

The show's next segment, during which the hosts highlighted "fire" (meaning "really good") tweets, was a better opportunity for them to take off their Serious Newsmen hats and show a bit more personality.

Putting on a daily streaming news show is an extremely complicated and expensive endeavor, and the well-funded digital media company is seemingly taking no short cuts — though it's borrowing publisher Dao Nguyen's office to use as a green room. The show has a staff of 22, including a talent booker hired away from NBC, and both Jones and Fitzgerald left their day jobs at BuzzFeed to work on it.

BuzzFeed is doing the show in partnership with Twitter. According to person familiar with the arrangement, BuzzFeed is paying for the costs of production and the two companies are splitting the revenue from advertising.

At the end of Thursday's show, Jones and Fitzgerald high-fived and the staff clapped. There was earnest excitement on set, and both Smith and Hilton said the show could really be something big for BuzzFeed, a company that has had more articles written about its televisions ambitions than actual television projects to show for it.

Asked how long the show will run, Hilton said, "It would be amazing to do for years. We want to see how it does. TBD."