From taco trucks to ice cream sprinkled with edible gold, the video team at BuzzFeed’s Worth It has seen—and eaten—it all.
Worth It follows BuzzFeeders as they try three similar foods at three different price points to determine which was their favorite.
“I like how involved the audience has become,” said Steven Lim, a BuzzFeed video producer who in 2016 discovered that his passion for going on food adventures matched what the audience wanted to see. “Comments sometimes rise to the top that will make us try something we wouldn’t normally do, and it helps us optimize the show without pandering too much.”
Worth It lives on YouTube, which has allowed it to amass a global following of fans, something that other food/travel shows on cable networks can’t easily do.
Most of the nine episodes of Season 2, which premiered in March, have well over 5 million views each, with some reaching close to 10 million views. The restaurants featured in the series range from local favorites to well-known institutions. Being featured on Worth It has had an immediate and unintended effect on some small businesses.
“We featured a pasta restaurant in Season 1, and by 2 p.m. the day after our video was uploaded, the place had run out of pasta,” said Lim. “I was worried we had either ruined or helped their business, but when I went back to visit a month later, nearly everyone eating there was there because of our video.”
In an episode from Season 2, Worth It featured chef Mario Batali’s flagship Eataly, in New York’s Flatiron district, and hosted a screening of Batali’s episode. In it, Batali described the premise of Eataly, which includes a market as well as small restaurants, as a place where people can buy the ingredients to make anything offered on the menus; during the screening, Lim ran into fans of Worth It who said they’d been inspired by Batali to do exactly that for their date night.
At a restaurant in Los Angeles, a fan told Lim he flew in from Idaho specifically to recreate the entire steak episode of Worth It.
“We’ve seen people of all ages participate with our show in feasible and tangible ways,” said Lim. “I’m incredibly grateful for that opportunity, especially as someone whose girlfriend’s family owns a restaurant.”
“We had no idea we’d have this kind of impact,” said Lim, “and we couldn’t have predicted the success it’s had so far.”
Blinkie’s Donuts, owned by Teresa Larsen, was featured in the premiere episode of Worth It’s second season. Larsen, a casual BuzzFeed fan before the crew filmed at her bakery, now checks BuzzFeed, a company this reporter has previously worked for, and Tasty regularly.
“Lots of young faces came out after we were featured in their video,” said Larsen. “BuzzFeed is like a Bible to them.”
Larsen said people from other countries have come to visit her shop, which isn’t something that would’ve been able to happen without the power of YouTube and the internet.
“Millennials are addicted to their phones,” she said, “and so am I. It’s a lot harder to discover shows on the Food Network than it is to watch videos that just show up on YouTube or in your Facebook feed.”
“That’s why BuzzFeed is 100 times better than Guy Fieri,” said Larsen. Fieri hosts, among other shows, a program called Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives that tours mom-and-pop restaurants around the country. Fans of the show frequently take road trips to visit the restaurants honored by Fieri.
“You can stream Worth It anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, without waiting for your DVR to catch up,” she said. “There’s a bigger impact this way than if this show was on a TV network.”
As is the BuzzFeed way, other parts of the company and video production teams took note of Worth It’s success.
Andrew Gauthier, head of global strategic projects at BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, has launched new initiatives at BuzzFeed over the last five years including Tasty, Goodful, Nifty and others. He pays attention to common behaviors and sharing statements posted by fans on BuzzFeed videos to see where his team can next iterate.
“We started seeing comments like ‘let’s do this,’ ‘you’d love this,’ or the hashtag #weekendgoals on our videos as a way to make plans with friends or significant others,” said Gauthier.
“We take a viewer-first approach when creating new content,” he said. “First we see how they’re interacting with content and we get our inspiration from that.”
Gauthier launched Bring Me in early February as a social video destination focused on the experiences people could go and physically do with their friends and family. One of its most popular videos featured a ball pit bar in London, which was originally supposed to be a pop-up event; the bar ended up selling more than 18,000 tickets, became a permanent feature, and the video itself has over 50 million views.
When Bring Me featured a restaurant in St. Louis that specializes in different ranch dressing flavors (“I get kind of weak when I think about ranch dressing,” said Gauthier, a ranch fan), the restaurant was “mobbed with lines around the block” and temporarily sold out of ranch dressing.
Bring Me isn’t just about food experiences. Gauthier has leveraged BuzzFeed’s international video producers to showcase locations and unique adventures from around the world.
“It’s important to us that there’s an authenticity to it,” said Gauthier. “We rely on inspiration from the viewers to achieve this global, strategic initiative.”
“There are lots of ways that people can share an experience,” he said. “One of those ways is to go out and do it in the real world. People share videos like they share a meal together, and we happen to be a bridge between the two.”