BuzzFeed Didn’t Need TV to Make a Mighty Fine Election-Night TV Show for Millennials

Joined forces with Twitter for a new kind of coverage

On Tuesday night, BuzzFeed News showed the Twitter audience what election night coverage could look like for millennials.

Meatballs, Ken Bone and Scandal's President Fitz all made an appearance on the broadcast, as did many other prominent pop-culture figures. DeRay Mckesson, one of today's leading civil rights activists, stopped by to talk to the panel, while Ben Carson came by the studio earlier in the day for a prerecorded segment.

BuzzFeed's choice to stream the huge event with Twitter made sense for both brands—each could use a bit more credibility when it comes to hard news. In fact, it ended up seeming like a solid look at what a BuzzFeed News news channel would look like.

In fact, BuzzFeed News' editor in chief, Ben Smith, said they hired a TV producer to oversee the broadcast.

"We were trying to take the bones of what everyone else does on election night," Smith said. "We talked about what was happening while explaining the numbers but in a transparent way that only Twitter and BuzzFeed have."

The news team also used a collective called Decision Desk HQ to help it call states for the candidates.

"We weren't in a race to call states," Smith said. "We probably fell somewhere in the middle [of early or late calls], but we wanted to be confident."

BuzzFeed's team, Smith also said, was able to explain where other networks' numbers were coming from and why calls weren't made yet, because "that's how the internet is, but maybe that's not how TV is doing it." 

In addition to electoral college results, here's some of what BuzzFeed News showed on its broadcast: a main panel of hosts, which included rotations of Tracy Clayton, Eugene Lang, Adrian Carrasquillo, Ben Smith, Hannah Jewell, Tanya Chen, Katherine Miller, Charlie Warzel, Jim Waterson, and other staffers in the studio located at BuzzFeed HQ in New York; remote correspondents including Ryan Broderick in the U.K., Rosie Gray and McKay Coppins at Donald Trump's gathering, and Ruby Cramer reporting from Hillary Clinton's gathering; pretaped interviews with Carson, President Obama and Ken Bone, among others; and recipes from BuzzFeed's Tasty team in its nearby kitchen.

All of that is to say there was a lot going on from a lot of different corners, which is exactly what BuzzFeed does well.

Occasionally, they would check in with Twitter to see what "fire tweets" were coming out, or they'd toss something into ye olde dumpster fire.

Occasionally, the broadcast would also show prerecorded pieces with BuzzFeed reporters reacting to the 29 most "WTF" moments of the election.

The livestream also included ad breaks that were separate from what appeared in the live broadcast, and there were no noticeable native ads, unless you count the Tasty snack breaks. Most of the ads were for other live Twitter or BuzzFeed video projects, with a smattering of terrifying ads for the new season of Man in the High Castle, which airs on Amazon.

(Cheddar, a reporting network on markets and emerging technologies aimed at millennials, also advertised during the program. Cheddar was created by former BuzzFeed president and COO Jon Steinberg.)

With cuts to beer pong and recipes, and by starting the evening with a few "obvious" states called, BuzzFeed was able to showcase its various reporting styles and skills throughout the evening. The broadcast started around 6 p.m. and concluded before 1 a.m., before the decisive results were announced.

Since it wasn't tied to any network, cable or otherwise, BuzzFeed allowed itself some freedom. Panelists cursed and drank, and the audience of mostly BuzzFeed staffers frequently booed whenever the tide turned in Trump's favor (which ended up being more often than not).

"We were able to talk about the craziest things happening on TV," Smith said, "which you'd never see other networks be able to do."

The personalities, segments and reporting tinged with real anxiety presented an accurate picture of what the Twitter audience was feeling. Without the constant walk to John King's wall on CNN or the squabbles between commentators on ABC, or the heart palpitation-inducing dial on the New York Times' website, BuzzFeed News was able to distract and inform viewers, if only for a few hours.

According to Twitter's release on the broadcast, 6.8 million unique viewers tuned into the special stream, and 83 percent of logged-in live viewers were under the age of 35.

"Overall, it went great, and this is a new muscle that we're excited to show more of," said Smith. "We exceeded our already ambitious expectations. This was a way to end on a high note of our great political coverage."