Group Nine Media isn’t a household name. But CEO Ben Lerer wants you to believe his seven-month-old company is poised to become a next-generation media powerhouse a la BuzzFeed or Vice Media.
Lerer, at the company’s Digital Content NewFronts presentation Thursday evening in New York, said Group Nine’s four brands — NowThis (news), Thrillist (food, drink and travel), the Dodo (animal lovers) and Seeker (science and tech) — program for social media with a recipe for high engagement, in a way few other companies do.
“Each brand is inclusive and inspires participation. Our audience wants to get up off the couch,” Lerer said.
In aggregate, Group Nine’s properties deliver more than 4 billion monthly video views. But it’s “intelligent scale,” according to Lerer: Group Nine ranks as the No. 1 most-engaging publisher of the industry’s biggest video publishers, per Tubular Labs. In April, Group Nine’s brands had more than 96 million social interactions on its content. “That’s pretty good — when I share something on Instagram, it gets 11 likes,” quipped Lerer.
Group Nine was formed last fall with the merger of three startups backed by Lerer Hippeau Ventures (Thrillist, NowThis and the Dodo) and Seeker (formerly Discovery Digital Networks), along with a $100 million investment by Discovery. Lerer, co-counder of Thrillist, is the son of venture capitalist Ken Lerer.
Puppies were also featured at Group Nine’s NewFronts. Izzie Lerer, founder of the Dodo (and Ben’s sister), came onstage holding an adorable mutt as part of promoting the Dodo’s summer launch of “Best Dog Day Ever,” a 12-episode weekly series about adoptable rescue dogs finding their “forever families.” She had brought actual dogs from a local shelter to the event, and encouraged the crowd to consider adopting them.
One of the theories behind Group Nine’s roll-up was that it would work with Discovery to migrate brands to TV, and vice versa. Now it has such a project cooking: Thrillist is teaming with TLC for “Best Meal Ever,” a multiplatform, short-form franchise featuring TLC talent revealing their absolute favorite meal in Thrillist’s style. “Best Meal Ever” will include interstitials on TLC, with step-by-step recipes posted across TLC and Thrillist platforms.
The company also announced that NowThis has hired investigative journalist Kaj Larsen, a former Vice News and CNN correspondent, as senior correspondent. He’ll oversee development and production of short- and longer-form news and docu-series, many of which he will host.
The formation of Group Nine hasn’t been without bumps in the road. In February, Thrillist laid off about 20 employees. Earlier this month, popular YouTube vlogger Philip DeFranco parted ways with Group Nine to go solo (four years after Discovery bought his company). That came after Group Nine shut down DeFranco’s SourceFed and related sites and rebooted them under the NowThis umbrella — prompting a backlash from former fans.
Group Nine held the NewFronts event at Tribeca’s Spring Studios, and hired Questlove as DJ for the post-presentation mixer.
Here are other programming highlights promoted by each of Group Nine’s brands:
- “Her Stories”: 10-episode series focused on profiling unknown women doing extraordinary and empowering things, breaking boundaries and crushing stereotypes.
- NowThis Sports: A new sub-brand about the stories behind athletes and how sports intersects with NowThis’ core issues. NowThis Sports will partner with Discovery-owned EuroSport (the exclusive European home for the Olympics from 2018-2024) as an official content partner in Europe.
- “Food/Groups”: A mid-form weekly YouTube series exploring how food is at the center of modern communities and how it ties us together.
- “War & Pizza”: Long-form pizza-making competition series in partnership with T Group Productions that will span the digital, linear and physical worlds (culminating with a Thrillist pop-up restaurant for the winner).
- “Animal Heroes”: Multi-platform program (short-form, mid-form and linear series) telling the stories of people who are going above and beyond for animals.
- “Animal Eye View”: Virtual-reality programming series timed for late 2017 that shot from an animal’s perspective.
- Little Dodo: A new sub-brand with animal content for preschool-aged kids.
- “The Edge”: Targeted for Q3, the series will send VR cameras to the most extreme and untouched corners of the planet.
- “Ceremonies”: Series takes viewers inside some of the most exclusive festivals in the world to understand culture, anthropology and the human nature of our most sacred group rituals. Slated for Q4.
- “Everest VR” partnership: Seeker is partnering with VR studio Solfar and RVX to debut “Seeker Mode” inside their hit VR experience “Everest VR,” to provide additional storytelling and data within the experience.
In addition, Lerer called out Group Nine’s partnership with DigitasLBi, under which Group Nine will introduce a video content creation and distribution offering for DigitasLBi clients. The offering will allow brands to take existing content assets and transform them into bite-size video segments optimized for social channels.