December 12, 2018

Israel’s Playbuzz raises $15 million from Disney, Saban

Two Hollywood giants, Robert Iger’s Disney and Haim Saban’s Saban Ventures, are together putting $15 million into Playbuzz, the online content engagement and social distribution co-founded by former MTV executive Shaul Olmert. 

The slideshows, flip cards, galleries, quizzes, lists and video snaps most often shared by Facebook users are often generated on a backend software suite developed at Playbuzz’s Tel Aviv headquarters. 

Bloomberg Business Week described Playbuzz as the “Israeli Quiz Factory That’s Outbuzzing BuzzFeed on Facebook.”

Playbuzz also has offices in New York, London, Hamburg, Germany and Nashville, Tenn., and its workforce of about 100 people specializes in using the company’s content-engagement platform alongside companies and publishers looking to expand the reach of their creative output and, most importantly, their advertising. 

Saban Ventures, already an investor in Playbuzz, led the current investment round, which included participation from Walt Disney Co. 

Existing investors 83North, Carmel Ventures and First Time Ventures also participated in the investment round.

The company raised $16 million in Series B financing last year, which helped it expand its “sponsored content” toolset and position itself as a business-to-business version of BuzzFeed with independent content creators, mainstream media outlets, and companies making and sharing their own sharable lists, quizzes and slideshows.

Olmert says the focus to the quizzes and listicles generated by publishers on the Playbuzz platform initially made it difficult to sell potential investors on the notion that the company was an “eyeball engine” for advertisers.

But while Facebook adjusted its algorithms to reduce Playbuzz content, often called “click-bait” in the online publishing industry, the startup has managed to increase social interaction, motivating Saban and Disney to grow their ownership stake.

The company says content created on the Playbuzz platform generates completion rates of entire listicles of up to 94 percent and social share rates as high as 15 percent.

“Most of our employees are engineers, not content people, and we aren’t telling you how to tell your story. But we are giving you tools to create content that catches the habits of today’s consumer that fits today’s consumption habits,” Olmert told the Jewish Journal. 

Olmert said people are reading more than ever, but traditional media companies are struggling to get audience attention, especially when most reading is now done on mobile phones and tablet devices.

“Even if you do a really good job writing this article, the chances are that I won’t read it myself, because life is too short, so maybe you might consider making a listicle on the 10 Things You Don’t Know about Playbuzz,” Olmert joked. 

The quiz and listicle content served up by Playbuzz keeps users on a publisher’s site longer, and the longer they stay, the more likely they are to share, said the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. 

The company’s revenue model is based on charging brands such as Ford, Pizza Hut and American Express to create the content, and then charging them per engagement to distribute it.

“Every item that is generated by Playbuzz generates an average of between two and five minutes of engagement time,” said Olmert, who says the best “serious” publishers are now realizing the importance of delivering their content in a “playful” format.