VENN Gaming Network Raises $26M and New Distribution
Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake
VENN leveled up in its quest to become the 24/7 streaming network for gaming on Tuesday, announcing it has closed a $26 million Series A financing round. The Playa Vista-based company has also turbocharged its leadership and distribution network.
The Videogame Entertainment and News Network launched in August with $17 million in seed funding. That round was led by Bay Area gaming fund BITKRAFT, which also co-led the Series A — this time with Nexstar Media Group, a NASDAQ-listed telecoms company headquartered in Irving, Texas.
As part of its investment, Nexstar, which claims to reach nearly 63% of U.S. television households, received exclusivity for local television broadcasting and the right to appoint a member to VENN's board.
In a statement, Nexstar executive Thomas E. Carter said, "VENN is a new kind of TV network built for the streaming and digital generation, and it's developing leading-edge content for the millennial and Gen Z cultures who are obsessed with gaming. Gaming and esports are two fast growing sectors and through our investment we plan to distribute VENN content across our broadcast platform to address a younger audience; utilize VENN to gain early access to gaming-adjacent content; and present local and national brands with broadcast and digital marketing and advertising opportunities to reach younger audiences."
In addition to the new financing, VENN announced Tuesday it will now be available on The Roku Channel, complementing its existing distribution channels, which include Plex; LG Channels, powered by Xumo; Samsung TV Plus; and VIZIO.
Similar distribution agreements have helped VENN attract advertising partners, including brands such as Subway, Draft Kings and Adidas.
Also announced Tuesday: Jeff Jacobs, formerly a production head at Viacom and MTV, and most recently president of a third-party production firm whose clients included Viacom and the NBA, has joined VENN as executive vice president and general manager. His responsibilities will focus on growth and expansion.
VENN broadcasts from its 8,000 square-foot studio space in Playa Vista. It was co-founded by Ben Kusin, formerly of Electronic Arts and Vivendi Games and son of GameStop co-founder Gary Kusin; and Ariel Horn, a pioneer of esports with experience at NBC Universal and Riot Games. He was also an early employee at Twitch.
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LA Tech Updates: Apple Podcast Vet Joins QCODE, Amazon Reportedly in Talks to Buy Wondery, Pharrell's New Black Ambition Incubator
Apple Podcast Veteran Joins Startup QCODE<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUzNTQzMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDUzMzYyNH0.pOGV2lL0qOJQDiWw1T5i4SqsGfaL54hLWED6_5Mf1Ww/img.png?width=980" id="8d68d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f2a47797239f360473fead53338231d4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="qcode" />www.sonos.com <p>QCODE, a Los Angeles podcast startup run by a former Creative Artists Agency talent agent, snagged longtime Apple podcast executive Steve Wilson. The 15-year veteran will become QCODE's chief strategy officer.</p> <p>QCODE, which <a href="https://dot.la/sonos-podcast-qcode-2648395035.html" target="_self">last month raised $6.4 million</a> in a Series A round led by Sono, is positioning itself as a funnel for Hollywood. </p> <p>Founded by Rob Herting, a former agent who had represented largely writers and filmmakers, the company has produced eight shows since 2019. Several have been auctioned for film and television, including "Dirty Diana." Amazon picked up the 6-part erotic drama for a TV series.</p>Wilson, who most recently ran marketing for Apple Podcasts, brings insights from the behemoth platform as the industry sees revenues soar. Advertising brought in near $1 billion this year, according to Interactive Advertising Bureau's podcast report prepared by PwC.
Amazon Reportedly in Exclusive Talks to Buy Wondery<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5NDU5OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjgyMDY3NX0.BHKSXjwra-gGsFEa7lXCCCMJXWV5cYxrZqhddj3-uds/img.jpg?width=980" id="d401d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c9c9eee1f9adc4c1d5edeca1af986a84" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Hernan Lopez" />Hernan Lopez started Wondery with the belief that in-depth, narrative audio stories were poised to bloom.<p>Amazon is in "exclusive talks" to buy podcast company Wondery and subsume its 30 hit shows and over 8 million monthly listeners into its empire, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.</p> <p>The talks reportedly value Wondery above $300 million, in line with previous estimates from analysts, when Apple and Sony were said to have expressed interest.</p> <p>Wondery has produced dozens of original series including "Dr. Death" and "Business Wars," and has 19 shows currently in development to become television series. </p> <p>The company does not publicly disclose its financials, but chief executive Hernan Lopez has previously said the company is profitable. About three-quarters of Wondery's revenue comes from advertising, but Lopez has said the company's revenue share from content licensing is growing (Wondery owns the intellectual property for all of its originals). It also launched a subscription service, Wondery Plus, in June and is currently looking to expand its international footprint. </p> <p>Wondery, the West Hollywood-based company with the largest audience of any independent podcast producer, has been the subject of swirling rumors that several suitors are interested in acquiring it.</p> <p>After a pandemic-induced decline that struck much of the podcasting industry, Wondery's audience has surpassed its pre-COVID levels. Its Q3 revenue was about double year-on-year and its Q4 performance has been strong, Lopez previously told dot.LA. </p> <p>Podcasting overall now attracts over 100 million monthly listeners, according to Edison Research. The Interactive Advertising Bureau projects podcasting revenues to exceed $1 billion by 2021.</p> <p>That growth has spurred somewhat of an arms race, most evident in Spotify's spending spree, which also has helped that company diversify from its reliance on streaming. Amazon Music is one of Spotify's biggest competitors along with Apple Music, and <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-music-joins-podcasting-fray-11600261201?mod=article_inline" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently expanded into podcasts as well</a>. </p> <p>Acquiring Wondery would give Amazon more content to slide into Amazon Music, a scaled-down version of which is free for Amazon Prime subscribers. Combining that content with its Alexa smart speaker also could empower the company to capture more eyes and ears in the increasingly competitive attention economy. </p> <p>The talks are reportedly ongoing and no deal has been confirmed. </p>
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LA Tech Updates: Fidelity Reportedly Seeks to Unload Bird Shares at a Loss; Warner Bros Streaming 2021 Releases; Plug-In South LA's Accelerator for 2021
Fidelity Reportedly Seeks To Unload Bird Shares at a Loss<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTI2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTc0NTgyM30.2gHsdIxx6hnX0sV0Evq4Xdc-UsOWfaDn5sxhMhUWVoQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="e3f93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7034229cee2777d3a9f7e45313d88a5b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Escooter Unicorn Bird Seeks to Unload Santa Monica HQupload.wikimedia.org<p>Fidelity Investments is attempting to unload some of its shares in Bird Rides Inc. at a loss, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/bird-investor-fidelity-selling-stake-scooter-2020-12?r=US&IR=T" target="_blank">according to a report</a> published Wednesday night by Business Insider.</p><p>The move comes <a href="https://dot.la/bird-scooter-2648232688.html" target="_self">after dot.LA reported in October</a> that the mutual fund giant has marked down the value of its Bird investment by 17% since the beginning of the year.</p><hr><p>As a private company, Bird does not have to share its financials. Nor do the venture funds that hold most of its shares. However, Fidelity is required to account for shares at their fair market value so it provides a rare glimpse into the company's health.</p><p>But a source close to the matter said the sale should not be seen as any indication of Bird's financial performance. The shares represent less than ten percent of Fidelity's position and the intended sale is the result of a new portfolio manager taking over who does not want to invest in pre-IPO companies, the source said. </p><p>Neither Bird nor Fidelity would respond to dot.LA's request for comment.</p><p>Bird <a href="https://www.inc.com/magazine/201902/will-yakowicz/bird-electric-scooter-travis-vanderzanden-2018-company-of-the-year.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">became the fastest company in history</a> to reach unicorn status in 2018 and achieved a $2 billion valuation less than a year later. But as the pandemic hit, it abruptly laid off 406 employees <a href="https://dot.la/bird-layoffs-meeting-story-2645612465.html" target="_self">via a Zoom call</a> and was forced to remove its fleet from city streets just as it was gearing up for its normally lucrative summer season. </p><p>dot.LA reported in October the company <a href="https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EjstMVqVoAAWd7f.jpg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">put its Santa Monica offices up for sublease</a> less than a year after completing a costly renovation.</p><p>Bird has maintained <a href="https://www.bird.co/blog/empty-streets-effect-pandemic-unexpected-lesson-life-after-cars/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the pandemic has been a positive</a> as riders prefer scooters over crowded buses and subways. <a href="https://www.bird.co/blog/scooter-riders-making-comeback-riding-longer-than-ever/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">It says it is seeing riders take longer trips</a> than they did before the pandemic. </p><p>Last month, <a href="https://dot.la/bird-ipo-2648944903.html" target="_self">Bloomberg reported</a> Bird is looking to go public via a blank-check company. Bird said it had no plans to go public "this year," which did not exactly rule out a SPAC sometime in the near future. </p>
Plug-In South LA Opens New Accelerator Cohort for 2021<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg2MzAxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTg0MTM1Mn0.QPKaMFTusp_uKe5Td0K77QKhp7KXUY6_An5edQ588VM/image.jpg?width=980" id="460a2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c53839f0b8ac6658fd10bb2da6ea53f8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Plug In South LA's Accelerator Program is returning in 2021. The outfit is looking for 10 Black and Latinx founders who have proof of product-market fit and traction. The organization, founded in 2015 by Derek Smith, aims to build a network for Black and Latinx founders in South Los Angeles.<br></p><p>Last year was the inaugural accelerator program funded by Verizon, Silicon Valley Bank and Nike. The 2019 cohort hosted five startups including Spooler, a tech-based clothing design startup that credits the program with helping to increase revenue two fold since March. During the program, the company received a contract to launch a Sesame Street active wear product line. </p><p>The last day to <a href="http://pluginsouthla.com/accelerator" target="_blank">apply for the program</a> is Dec. 9 </p>
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