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Refinery29 to Launch OTT Service Channel29, Unveils Expanded Slate of ‘Socially Impactful Content’

Refinery29, the media and entertainment player that targets millennial females, is the latest content company to plot an over-the-top video push.

Refinery29’s Channel29 is set to launch in the fourth quarter of 2018, as a live and on-demand video destination available on connected-TV devices, smart TVs and the company’s existing digital platforms. It’s designed as a new vehicle to reach engaged audiences with an expanded lineup of original news, entertainment and lifestyle programming — and shopping opportunities.

The company didn’t share many details of Channel29 except that it will be free to watch and ad-supported, and will feature commerce components. R29 also called out its major site redesign last month, intended to put the focus on “consumer action” — to discover and watch content, as well as shop through its ecommerce portal.

The new website design is intended to better “integrate our editorial and shopping experiences,” said Sarah Personette, Refinery29’s new COO and Facebook’s former head of global business marketing — claiming the company has seen a 400% increase in ecommerce activity since the redesign went live last month. Personette, who joined the company last fall, also said R29 will launch new editions for France and Canada, in addition to sites for the U.S., U.K. and Germany.

At its Digital Content NewFronts event in NYC, Refinery29 — which is backed by investors including Turner, Scripps Networks Interactive (now part of Discovery) and WPP Ventures — highlighted its 2018 video-content slate, which includes 10 new and six returning series.

New content includes: “Pride,” a six-part documentary series chronicling the fight for LGBTQ civil rights in America, executive produced by indie filmmaker Christine Vachon, co-founder of Killer Films; “America. The Beautiful,” a docu-series about the experiences of black women in U.S. politics, in partnership with executive producer and host Michaela Angela Davis; and its first Snapchat Show, a mobile adaptation of its “Beauty Evolution” tutorial series.

“There has never been definitive documentation about the LGBTQ struggle,” Vachon told the audience at the Refinery29 event.

Refinery29 also announced “Pay No Attention,” a half-hour dramedy about an Asian-American woman who feels invisible in everyday life. The show is written and executive produced by director Daryl Wein (“Lola Versus”) and Vivian Bang (“Sullivan & Son,” “Swedish Dicks”), who also stars. Wein and Bang previously teamed on feature film “White Rabbit,” which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

The company is developing “Unbothered Presents,” a new social-video series based on the popularity of Unbothered, a dedicated Instagram channel made for and by black millennial women. The video series is targeting a Q3 2018 debut.

In addition, Refinery29 and CBS News are teaming up ahead of the 2018 midterm U.S. elections on a survey designed to measure the cultural and political perspectives of millennial women. That will culminate in a series, “The Secret Political Lives of American Women,” Refinery29 chief content officer Amy Emmerich said.

R29 also announced a partnership with Google to produce virtual-reality videos for the Daydream VR headset, with content to include immersive experiences based on Refinery29 YouTube series “Sweet Digs” and other fashion and lifestyle programming, including a day-in-the-life look at New York Fashion Week. And, in a project sponsored by Kate Spade, Refinery29 will present an Instagram-first series of five short films (with the working title “Pilot Season”), in which viewers will vote on which film will get turned into a series.

Returning R29 series include “Try Living with Lucie,” “The Mention,” and “Style Out There.” According to the company, over the past year, time spent viewing Refinery29 video reached 68 million hours. On YouTube, R29’s video watch-time has jumped 720%, while Refinery20 has seen a 132% rise in audience engagement on Instagram.

Refinery29 also is expanding its live-events biz. It’s extending the 29Rooms experiential events to include San Francisco and Chicago this summer, in addition to New York and L.A. (for which the company sold 65,000 tickets to this year’s events). In September 2018, 29Rooms also be broadcast via a mobile-oriented experience co-developed with the Facebook Anthology branded-content program. The company also will launch Beauty & The Beats, a touring dance party and mobile, virtual-reality DJ battle hosted by influencers and artists.

Down the road, 29Rooms will expand internationally, said Piera Gelardi, Refinery29 executive creative director and co-founder. “It’s going to continue to change the game in how live events touch people and change their lives,” she said.

In another off-internet business venture, Refinery29 will publish a book based on its “Money Diaries” financial editorial series, in partnership with Touchstone and Simon & Schuster U.K. in September 2018.

Refinery29 held the NewFronts event at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan, which execs noted is rooted in a nearly 100-year history of providing a literal stage for women and African-Americans.

The New York-based company says it produces upwards of 1,600 pieces of content monthly and claims an aggregate global audience of 425 million individuals across all platforms. Refinery29, like other digital-centric media upstarts, has faced financial challenges in the past year and laid off 34 employees (7.5% of headcount) in December.

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