Another traditional media company has invested in an online property to help expand its digital footprint and capture the next generation of consumers. Refinery29 — the online publisher that, in its own words, is aimed at “a modern woman’s destination for how to live a stylish, well-rounded life” — has raised $45 million in funding led by Turner, the Time Warner broadcasting giant that owns TV channels like CNN and the Cartoon Network, but also online sites like Bleacher Report.
Also participating: another oldie from the media landscape, Scripps, via Scripps Networks Interactive, which co-led the company’s last round with WPP, a Series D of $50 million at a $290 million valuation.
A spokesperson for Refinery29 tells me that the companies are not commenting on the current valuation, but a report last month in Recode about the startup raising (which accurately identified Turner as the lead investor) noted that it was looking for about $50 million at a $500 million valuation. (And since publishing this earlier we have had some additional confirmation of the valuation.)
This latest funding round is a strategic investment that will help both sides.
The two companies say they will “work together on content creation and development tied to key programming across the Turner networks that will appeal to Refinery29’s core audience of millennial women. They will also work on ad sales together — a key component, considering the shift that media buyers have made to cross-platform campaigns that can target consumers wherever they happen to be looking (with many of those gazes now happening on smartphone screens).
Refinery29 can use the investment to reach more consumers that are already Turner viewers, and Turner can use it to tap into the base of users who may look at Refinery29 content, but have more or less stopped watching the kind of linear TV that Turner churns out.
“In order to achieve success in today’s quickly evolving digital environment, we believe in partnering with brands that have distinct voices and loyal, engaged audiences,” said David Levy, president of Turner, in a statement.
“Refinery29 certainly fits the bill, bringing with it a highly coveted following of millennial-minded women, strong capabilities in digital products, event marketing and content creation, as well as an attractive advertiser base. We’re excited to enter into this agreement and look forward to working with the talented and creative team at Refinery29 to develop and expand opportunities around our commercial content partnership and other initiatives that will engage audiences and appeal to advertisers.”
Refinery29 has been around for more than a decade now, launching first in 2004 as a local shopping guide before expanding out into more lifestyle publishing and adjacent branded content as a route to monetizing. While it’s continuing to grow, a lot of that growth is happening away from its actual website.
Today the site says that it has over 27 million monthly unique visitors; but that is not much of an increase on April 2015, when it had 25 million monthly uniques.
However, the company is growing with the times, so to speak, spending more effort (and now investment) on building its brand on other platforms.
Refinery29 itself likes to point out that its reach has grown by 226% since April 2015, now reaching over 225 million users “across platforms.” It doesn’t specify which but I’m guessing that they include social platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest and Twitter. It’s been working on a number of original content initiatives as part of this, such as R29 Originals for video, and it has launched regional sites in various international markets such as Germany.
“It has been an incredible year of growth for Refinery29, expanding our mission to put women at the center of every conversation and lead a new powerful representation of women in media and advertising,” said cofounders and co-CEO’s Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano, in a statement. “We are thrilled to bring Turner on board as a key strategic partner: Turner’s portfolio consists of many of the world’s strongest media properties and is a true leader in global content creation. We are excited to collaborate with the Turner team to expand Refinery29 into new territories, expand and develop our leading voice in video content for women, as well as integrate into some of Turner’s most exciting franchises and platforms.”
To date, Refinery29 has raised $125.4 million, with other investors including Stripes Group, Floodgate, Lead Edge Capital, First Round Capital, Lerer Ventures and Hearst Corporation.
For Turner, meanwhile, this is not its first online investment by some measure, among those that have been disclosed: the company’s strategic stake in Mashable, and other in the online video company Above Average. Other large media companies that have dived into digital media include Comcast/NBC Universal, which invests in Vox Media; and Disney, A&E and 21st Century Fox, which invest in Vice Media.
As part of this round in Refinery29, Christina Miller, president and general manager of Turner’s Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang, will take a seat on Refinery29’s board of directors.
Updated with more detail on valuation.