UPDATE: This article has been updated to include BuzzFeed‘s statement to The Financial Times.
The buzz over digital media may be wearing off after reports that BuzzFeed’s revenue distantly trails the startup’s own projections.
The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that BuzzFeed, which has a reported market value of $1.5 billion, fell short of its 2015 revenue target by about 32%, pulling in less than $170 million after projecting $250 million in revenue. FT, which cites multiple anonymous sources in its reporting, also says BuzzFeed cut its internal forecast for the current year’s revenue to about half of the company’s previous estimate of $500 million.
FT reports that BuzzFeed disputed the numbers in the report, but also did not supply alternative revenue figures. When reached for comment, a BuzzFeed spokesperson sent Fortune the full statement supplied to FT, which reads: “Regardless of your sources, much of the information is significantly incorrect. We are very pleased with where BuzzFeed is today and where it will be tomorrow. We are very comfortable where the digital content world is going and think we are well positioned.”
The FT report likely comes as a blow for new media enthusiasts who have increasingly looked to media startups like BuzzFeed for guidance on how to build a successful digital media enterprise. Founded in 2006, the site gained popularity as an online hub of cheeky content, featuring lists of animated GIFs and cat videos, that churned out viral content. For instance, last week’s BuzzFeed video stream on Facebook Live showing two staff members exploding a watermelon with rubber bands had more than 800,000 viewers, and the company’s Facebook-based (FB) cooking channels have pulled in millions of followers.
And, in more recent years, the site used the viral hits that pulled in 200 million monthly views, along with billions of video views, to help subsidize a strong team of award-winning investigative journalists.
The problem, seems to lie with BuzzFeed’s branded content, an important part of the site’s business model that FT‘s sources claim is too labor-intensive to be scalable. FT also points out that BuzzFeed is one of several other new media companies looking to translate its online video success into an expanded television presence. (One of BuzzFeed’s investors is Comcast’s (CMCSA) NBCUniversal.)
Vice Media launched its own cable channel on the A+E Networks, called Viceland, last fall after cutting a deal with Walt Disney (DIS). Meanwhile, other media entities are restructuring to focus more on video, such as online news website Mashable, which last week laid off staff as part of an effort to focus on opportunities in television and digital storytelling, as well as the International Business Times.
Meanwhile, some traditional television industry players have been quick to point out the relative value of digital video versus television viewership. FX Networks took a shot at “those who are wowed by exploding watermelons” in a statement on Tuesday noting that the network’s massively popular show, The People v. O.J. Simpson, has seen the equivalent of 259 billion views based on Nielsen statistics for its number of viewers and the amount of time they spent watching the show.