To finish off my visit to the 2017 Digital Content NewFronts I had front row seats at the Group Nine Media event. If you aren’t familiar with Group Nine, then just click on the latest Tubular leaderboards and check out the Top Media & Entertainment Properties. In April 2017, Group Nine Media ranked #8 with almost 3.3 billion (with a “b”) monthly views. That puts the property that many video marketers have never heard of ahead of Comcast, which ranked #9 with just under 3 billion views. And if you rank the top media and entertainment properties by engagements, then Group Nine ranked #1 in April. Ahead of the Walt Disney Company, which ranked #2. So, before I talk about the new digital content that Group Nine announced, let tackle the fundamental question: “Who are these guys?”

Group Nine: A Digital First Media Company

Group Nine Media is a family of digital media brands – NowThis, The Dodo, Seeker, and Thrillist. The four brands, and former brand Sourcefed, merged to form Group Nine Media in October 2016. At the time of the merger, Discovery Communications announced a $100 million minority investment in the collective organization, becoming the biggest shareholder before Axel Springer. Discovery also acquired the right to obtain a majority stake later if it so chooses. So, the reason why Group Nine isn’t a household name – yet – is because the privately held company is only seven months old! But, there aren’t a whole lot of 7-month-old companies topping the charts. So, this prompts another question: “What are they drinking?”

Well, according to Ben Lerer, the founder of Thrillist, who also serves as CEO of Group Nine Media, the formula isn’t a closely guarded secret. He told the hundreds of media buyers who attended the NewFront presentation and launch party that Group Nine is “a digital-first media company built for the mobile, social, and video-first world. A world where yesterday’s cable pipes are today’s social pipes. In this new reality, platforms own distribution — but brands own hearts and minds.” He added:

“Our four brands (NowThis, The Dodo, Seeker, and Thrillist) live together because they share an ethos and DNA that makes them special. Each brand is optimistic and wants the world to be a better place. Each brand is inclusive and inspires participation. Each brand relies on data and insights to make better decisions and operates at incredible speed. Each brand is a strong storyteller and connects deeply with a huge number of passionate people.”

But, according to Lerer, here’s what sets Group Nine apart: “These brands are not for everyone; they’re for someone. These brands matter.” Now, I haven’t heard language like that since I worked at Ziff-Davis more than 20 years ago. This was the successful formula for special interest publishing. And, as the critical data above shows, Group Nine has scale. More importantly, the company’s brands have engagement. Lerer said, “Last month alone, we had more than 96 million social actions taken on our content. We call this Intelligent Scale. Intelligent Scale is when mass delivery meets massive engagement.”

That’s why the announcements that NowThis, The Dodo, Seeker, and Thrillist made are significant. If they had been made by some other 7-month-old start-up, they might deserve to be mentioned in a paragraph in a round-up article about announcements by “digital innovators” at the 2017 Digital Content NewFronts. But, Group Nine is already one of the “media powerhouses” that made presentations at the two-week-long series of events. So, video marketers will want to examine the details below. Then, they need to find out what Group Nine is drinking and send a barrel to every member of their team.

NowThis: Most Watched Video News Creator

NowThis describes itself as “the #1 most watched video news creator on social covering the stories that matter to young people.” The brand announced:

  • A Kaj Larsen project: Award-winning former Vice and CNN Correspondent Kaj Larsen is joining NowThis this month as Sr. Correspondent, responsible for creating and producing both short-form and longer-form news and docu-series, many of which he will host. One of his first episodic series will focus on the intersection of sports and politics.
  • Her Stories: A 10-episode series focused on profiling unknown women doing extraordinary and empowering things, breaking boundaries and crushing stereotypes will launch this year.
  • NowThis Sports: Launching this fall, NowThis Sports is looking for a flagship launch partner. NowThis Sports isn’t about scores – it’s about the stories behind the athletes and how sports intersects with NowThis’ core issues. NowThis Sports will partner with EuroSport (the exclusive European home for the Olympics 2018-2024) as an official content partner in Europe.

The Dodo: Digital Animal Content

The Dodo describes itself as “the #1 digital destination for animal content.” The brand announced:

  • Animal Heroes: Launching this year, this is a multi-platform program (short, mid and linear series) telling the stories of people who are going above and beyond for animals.
  • Best (Dog) Day Ever: Launching this Summer, this is a mid-form, 12-episode weekly series about adoptable rescue dogs finding their forever families.
  • VR Programming: The Dodo will begin programming VR content later this year. For example, “Animal Eye View” will be a mid-form virtual reality series from an animal’s perspective with a focus on stunning footage and emotional narratives.
  • Little Dodo: This year The Dodo is launching an entirely new sub-brand for kids. Little Dodo offers a fresh take on animal content for preschool-aged kids and will live across several platforms and lengths.

Seeker: Digital Science & Innovation

Seeker describes itself as “the digital leader in science, innovation and VR.” The brand announced:

  • The Edge VR: Following the extremely popular mission to send a VR camera to space with the Webby Award-wining Edge of Space, Seeker’s newest series will send VR cameras to the most extreme and untouched corners of the planet in Q3.
  • Ceremonies VR: Seeker is scouring the globe to take viewers inside some of the most exciting and exclusive festivals in the world in Q4 – to understand culture, anthropology and the human nature of our most sacred group rituals.
  • Everest VR Partnership: Seeker is partnering with VR studio Solfar and RVX to debut “Seeker Mode” inside their hit VR experience Everest VR in September. Seeker Mode will serve rich storytelling and data within the experience, giving audiences a visceral understanding of what it’s like at the top of the world.

Thrillist: Trusted Entertainment Brand

Thrillist describes itself as “the most trusted brand in food, drink, travel & entertainment.” The brand announced:

  • Food/Groups: Lunching this month, this is a new mid-form weekly YouTube series exploring how food is at the center of modern communities and how it ties us together.
  • War & Pizza: Launching this year, this is a 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).
  • Thrillist x TLC “Best Meal Ever”: Launching in Q2, this is a new multi-platform short form franchise featuring popular TLC talent revealing their absolute favorite meal in Thrillist’s signature style. Throughout the year, interstitials will wrap key TLC shows, crafting those perfect meals followed by step-by-step recipes posted across TLC and Thrillist platforms.

There you have it: A baker’s dozen new shows from a media powerhouse that most of us haven’t had on our radar screens for very long. But, they know what they’re doing and they are planning to do a whole lot more of it in the coming year.

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