Group Nine Media owner acquires $50 million, preps for digital spree

Ben Lerer, the CEO of Thrillist owner Group Nine Media, just got $50 million to play with — and he’s planning to use at least some of that money to hunt for digital bargains.

The digital media company, which also runs Seeker and NowThisNews, landed a $50-million round of funding this week from backers Discovery and Berlin-based media giant Axel Springer. The company said it will use the cash to “fuel growth” and make “strategic acquisitions.”

The infusion comes as once high-flying digital sites are selling for a fraction of their former valuations.

Salon Media sold last month for $5 million. Snarky gossip site Gawker went for $1.35 million last year, but new owner Bustle Media recently laid off its entire staff and cancelled a relaunch.

MIC Network sold for $5 million — and just this week, the humor site Cracked, which E.W. Scripps paid $39 million to acquire in 2016, was sold to Literally Media, presumably for far less. Terms were not disclosed.

In the recent past, Pop Sugar and Buzzfeed have held talks with Group Nine, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing sources, but Lerer declined to zero-in on any general or specific areas of interest.

“This strong vote of confidence from our investors underscores the fact that we have the right model for a next generation diversified media company and we’re incredibly well-positioned to lean in — even while others are stepping back,” said Lerer in a statement. “More to come,” he teased.

The company, which is still believed to be losing money, was formed through a rollup in October 2016 that combined four niche sites — Thrillist (food, drink, travel); the The Dodo (animals); NowThis (news and current affairs); and Seeker (science) — into one company that was valued in an SEC filing at $585 million.

At that time, Discovery, which owned Seeker, kicked in an additional $100 million in cash.

It was a family affair from the start, since Lerer’s sister, Izzie Lerer, had cofounded The Dodo and remains its chief creative officer. Their father, Ken Lerer of Lerer Hippeau investment firm, also had investments in Thrillist and Now This along with Axel Springer.

In November, Discovery, Axel Springer and Lerer Hippeau kicked in another $40 million in a follow-up round of funding, which puts the money raised in three rounds at $190 million.

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Discovery CEO David Zaslav called Group Nine a “standout of the evolving mobile ecosystem.”

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