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Fox Backs Digital Platform Drivetribe With Former ‘Top Gear’ Hosts On Board

21st Century Fox has invested $6.5 million in Drivetribe, the digital-media platform for auto enthusiasts created by tech entrepreneur Ernesto Schmitt, former “Top Gear” hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, and the show’s former exec producer Andy Wilman.

“We saw the Drivetribe platform and we were blown away by its ingenuity,” Peter Rice, CEO of Fox Networks Group, said in a statement. “We’re excited to collaborate with the Drivetribe team on this new approach to digital content and to help them expand their business on a worldwide basis.”

News of Fox’s investment comes just two weeks after Jim Breyer, an early Facebook investor, and Atomico, the venture-capital fund led by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennstrom, injected $5.5 million into Drivetribe.

In the fall Clarkson, Hammond, May and Wilman are launching a TV series for Amazon, “The Grand Tour,” but Drivetribe is a separate and independent project.

As exclusively revealed by Variety in April, Drivetribe aims to become the digital home for motoring fans worldwide. This “vertical,” in digital-world parlance, is structured into different “tribes,” each with their own characteristics and personality. Each tribe will be hosted by stars, bloggers, writers and videographers, including Clarkson, Hammond and May, who will generate and curate their own content for fans. The content will be produced both by professional content creators, and the users. The London-based venture launches in November.

Clarkson’s tribe is called “Alfa Male,” which will compete for attention with “Hammond’s Fob Jockeys” and “James May’s Carbolics.” The venture has received more than 2,000 proposals from potential tribal leaders. Among those that have been approved are classic-car blogger Rosemarijn Atalante Veenenbos’ “Crank Handlers,” rally-driver Harry Hunt’s “Sand Junkies,” drifting-enthusiast Alexi Smith’s “Noriyaro,” wilderness adventurers Megan McLellan and Emanuel Smedbol’s “Field and Forest,” designer Joey Ruiter’s “Future Machines,” racing-driver Oliver James Webb’s “Global Racer,” and racing-driver Parker Kligerman’s “Motorsports America.”

Schmitt told Variety: “A tribe is really a collection of people that gather around a leader, a shared purpose and a shared idea, and the kind of qualities that you look for in the tribe leaders are that they have vast amounts of passion around a particular topic, a tone of voice, and that they have the ability not only to generate great content, but also to lead a community of people and curate [content] with them and for them.”

The Drivetribe model could be applied to other fan communities, particularly in the world of sports, Schmitt said. Soccer, basketball and baseball teams, for example, would form the natural basis for digital “tribes.” Other areas where this approach could work include fashion, music and food, all of which are “tribal,” he said.

“The reason why you see interest from very large established media groups as well as the VC [venture capital] community is that, potentially, this kind of community-augmented channel, which is what a ‘tribe’ is, stands to revolutionize the distribution of all forms of content in a whole range of different verticals,” Schmitt said.

“You are taking what you have already seen — the blurring of lines between traditional contents, with a storyteller and a separate audience, and social media, where the audience is involved in telling the story — to the logical next step, which is to say that even on professionally-generated editorial content, having this community-augmented element, where the community contributes to content and generates content as well as consuming content, that’s got a lot of people very interested and very excited.”

Such digital ventures could also be reverse-engineered into traditional media products, such as linear TV channels, in the same way that Vice Media has launched linear channels like Viceland. “I think that is the reason why you are seeing 21st Century Fox having taken such a big step into what is still a pre-launch venture, because they see the potential for the delivery and distribution of all forms of content, even ‘lean-back’ long-form high production-value content such as 21st Century Fox produce,” Schmitt said.

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