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Complex Media Expands to Give Dudes Their Due

Hipster brand infuses fresh funding into slate to challenge Vice and others for young men

On the 35th floor of the Time-Life Building in Manhattan, Nathan Brown is trying to figure out how to create a massive online video network that caters to the fickle tastes of millennial males.

Brown, general manager of Complex TV, has clear marching orders: The company wants his team to deliver at least 1 billion video views in 2014. The plan is to build an original video slate aimed at males 16-40, with a mix of daily news, entertainment, fashion and comedy.

To get big fast, Brown and his team will draw on Complex Media’s network of 123 male-skewing websites, which attract north of 90 million monthly unique visitors. “We have proven that people come to us to know what’s cool, what’s hip, what’s next,” he said. “Now we have to show we can build a video audience and develop original content.”

Complex Media started as a men’s magazine in 2002. It’s grown into a sizable digital publisher, and in September raised $25 million in funding from licensing and brand management company Iconix Brand Group. Much of that is earmarked for scaling video production and distribution, according to Complex Media CEO Rich Antoniello. The funding “is transformative, and will allow us to accelerate our already rapid growth,” he said.

A major plank in Brown’s video strategy is Complex News, a dedicated information channel that launched Dec. 2. Featuring fast-break dispatches on culture and lifestyle, the news channel hopes to release up to 25 pieces of content daily, becoming a sort of a next-generation MTV News, according to Brown. (Its tagline: “Answering the five W’s: who, when, why, where and WTF?!?”)

“Our audience wants to go into the office and know that Kobe Bryant wore a certain kind of shoe last night,” he said. “We want to be the destination where they get that information.”

Competitive sneaker news? There’s no guarantee such fare will help Complex TV fast-break into the Internet-video big leagues. The company will bump into a host of competitors — most directly, globe-trotting rival Vice Media, a multiplatform media company in which 21st Century Fox recently took a $70 million stake that will fuel its own expansion.

According to Brown, Complex TV, while focused on reaching the same demographic as Vice, will tilt more toward lifestyle topics instead of harder-hitting news. “They’ve chosen a different lane than we have,” he said.

Brown joined Complex in February from San Francisco commercial production company Rehab Media. He’s got a jogging start: Complex TV soft-launched earlier this year, and its lineup of 13 series have garnered about 25 million monthly views. Among the most popular clips are “Kate Upton: Hot Complex” and “Big Freedia Teaches Complex How to Twerk.”

Last month, the website added two new original series, “The Riff Raff Realm,” a “Talk Soup”-like variety show starring the rapper of the same name; and “Overcranked,” billed as an “artistic celebration of the human form” in slow motion and set to music. In addition, the company renewed “Magnum Opus,” a series that looks at the origin of seminal hip-hop songs like Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” with McDonald’s signed on as sponsor.

The Complex TV staff numbers 15, but Brown is in full-throttle hiring mode. He expects to have more than 75 employees within a year, most in the news department. To feed the news beast and create other content, the company is building a studio in its New York headquarters, and expects to open an L.A. studio as well.

Complex TV also is working with marketers to produce branded content, which has been a more lucrative path for monetizing online video. Some of that, presumably, will be for new shareholder Iconix, whose fashion brands include Rocawear, Ecko Unlimited and Umbro. (Complex Media’s other investors comprise Accel Partners and Austin Ventures, among others.)

Brown doesn’t anticipate Iconix’s interest in the company causing any conflicts. Fashion designer Marc Ecko founded Complex magazine, he said, “and even he can’t really sway the editorial purity.”

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