Lee held a similar role at Maker Studios before its acquisition by Disney, and he also founded the New York-based accelerator SKIG. Group Nine — which was created by the merger of Thrillist, NowThis Media, The Dodo and Discovery-owned Seeker — says Lee’s job will include licensing, merchandising, affiliate advertising and direct-to-consumer products.
“Group Nine has some of the most loved and impactful brands, coupled with the ability to leverage a host of deeply powerful insights,” said Lee said in a statement. “I believe we are uniquely positioned to make huge strides in this space and can’t wait to get started.”
When I met with Group Nine CEO Ben Lerer earlier this year, he laid out his vision for the company moving forward.
“We’re successfully building brands — not to be distributed over a paid TV pipe, not to sit back and watch on your TV passively,” Lerer said. “Instead, we’re building brands for the kind of content consumption that someone who’s grown up with a smartphone in their pocket patronizes. What we’re doing is shows and characters and telling stories that are meant to be delivered via Facebook, via YouTube, via Snapchat, via Twitter.”
That kind of strategy, where a publisher relies on third-party platforms to reach their audience, has been disastrous for other digital media companies, but Lerer sounded pretty confident, particularly as the company gets smarter about which shows to invest in: “We’re making less and less content that is disposable every month than we did the month before.”
That approach seems to tie into Group Nine’s commerce strategy. In today’s announcement, Lerer said, “We have some of the most engaging brands on mobile, built around deeply dedicated communities of loyal fans so it’s imperative that we make the most of the opportunities that presents.”
Citing Nielsen, Group Nine says its content reaches nearly 45 million Americans every day. Business Insider also reported recently that the company is in talks to merge with women’s lifestyle media company Refinery29.