SXSWi: What We Learned From Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh

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Ben Huh leads the Cheezburger Network, which specializes in creating viral content.

Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh knows content. And with an Internet company whose sites, including Know Your Meme, the Fail Blog, Geek Universe and dozens of others, get 375 million pageviews per month, Huh knows what works.

At his SXSW talk ”The Form Factor Is the Message,” Huh discussed how the communication theory of media critic Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message,” has been adapted in the midst of the digital media revolution.

The format is the message
Referring to McLuhan’s famous phrase, Huh said that a medium that frames content and changes the message is no longer. That is, there are now many more than one or two ways to present a message. The CEO, who also created news app Circa, said his modern-day mass media theory is “the form factor is the messenger.”

Between tools like Google Glass, smart watches, ultra-HD TVs and social media platforms, publishers, brands and content creators must figure out how to disseminate their messages in the digital form. ”You are, in many ways, being influenced by the device that you are using to communicate,” Huh said. “A device is not tied to a format,” he told Al Jazeera America.

As we consume more media, “ambient” content creation will rise
As Huh noted, in the 112 hours we spend awake per week (considering you sleep eight hours per day), the average person spends between 80 and 100 hours being connected to some kind of device consuming media. At that rate, we will probably reach a “global media apex” by the year 2040. So how will media change in order to accommodate that? Huh says it’s not that we will enjoy less sleep; it’s just that we’ll spend more time consuming media on primary, secondary and maybe tertiary screens, which means we’re paying less attention to each piece of media we’re consuming.

Publishers will need to create more “ambient content” — content that doesn’t require your full attention, according to Huh. “That means we need to start creating more and more diverse content,” he said. For many of Cheezburger’s web properties, it’s cat memes and silly GIFs that go viral and resonate with readers. What kind of content will it be for BuzzFeed, The New York Times and others?

Time is a commodity
Referring to Vine, Huh acknowledged the success of content creators who have “embraced time constraints.” “Six second videos pre-Vine were thought to be impossible, and now that has changed,” he said. Publications and brands have the opportunity to deliver short-form content via Twitter and Vine (which he notes are particularly adept formats for conveying humor). But Huh says successful content publishing must be done at the right moment.

Publishers/brands should keep developing native formats
“What we create in terms of native formats matters a lot,” Huh said. Plus, it drives engagement and traffic. Whether it’s Apple TV or Netflix, social media platforms or mobile apps, Huh said that the quest to figuring out how readers/viewers prefer to consume is chief to remaining ahead of the media consumption curve.

“Storytelling narrative is very different [today],” he said. According to Huh, publishers, brands and agencies are responsible for putting out content with a “meaningful relation to [the consumer's] life in short little bite-sized pieces… That doesn’t require much time.”

Related: Check out our other coverage of SXSWi, on mobile ad campaigns, the digital detox and teens and social media.

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