NowThis Media, which covers the news with videos that are usually around 15 or 30 seconds long, is announcing that it has raised $6 million in Series C funding.
NowThis was founded by Kenneth Lerer (chairman at BuzzFeed and co-founder of the Huffington Post) and Eric Hippeau (former CEO of the Huffington Post), with backing from their firm Lerer Hippeau Ventures. The startup launched in 2012, and it took on strategic funding just under a year ago from the NBC Universal News Group.
NowThis President Sean Mills told me that for this round, the startup didn’t really pitch new investors: “We got support internally, with one more key strategic partner,” namely media company Axel Springer. The round was led by previous backer Oak Investment Partners, with participation from other existing investors, including NBC Universal, SoftBank Capital, and Lerer Hippeau.
Mills himself joined NowThis at around the same time as the NBC funding (he was previously president at The Onion). Since then, he said the startup has become focused on “being a distributed media company and finding audiences where they live.” In other words, it’s less focused on drawing audiences to the NowThis mobile app and website, and more on finding viewers on social media.
Apparently the strategy is paying off — Mills said the company was seeing 1 million monthly video views as recently as early summer of this year, but it was up to 40 million monthly views in November. NowThis has also launched NowThis Studio, a division focused on branded content, and it acquired another startup, Cliptamatic.
That acquisition provided the foundation for a new platform called Switchboard, which is scheduled to launch early in 2015. Mills said Switchboard will help the NowThis deal with the “friction” in the current production process — it’ll give the team tools to find trending videos, edit those videos and create new ones, and distribute the resulting segments. While Switchboard was built as an internal tool, NowThis plans to use it with partners as well, and Mills said the startup could also explore whether “it makes sense to build new relationships” where NowThis is just a technology provider.
Mills described the NowThis audience as mostly 18- to 34-year-olds who are tech savvy and politically progressive. What kind of news are they interested in? Well, the biggest story on the NowThis front page as I write this is about two brothers who are also political pundits, and how their mother called in to chastise them on C-SPAN — a great story that you may have seen elsewhere, but one that’s pretty well-suited to the short-form video format.
As for whether NowThis might expand into longer videos eventually, Mills told me in a follow-up email:
We’re really just committed to what works best for the mobile experience on each social platform, and that has proven to be short-form, meaning under a minute. When video is watched in a fast-moving social feed we really believe you can’t waste someone’s time. You’ve got to make every second count if you want to make their thumb stop next time they see one of your videos.
That said we do think very specifically about each place we distribute. On Facebook, where video has been exploding, between :30 and a minute has been a sweet spot for us, but I think we’ve gotten equally good at the 15 second limit of Instagram and the six second limit of Vine.