Vertical Networks, founded in 2015, is known for the popular Snapchat series Phone Swap as well as Brother, a male-skewing lifestyle brand with more than 20 million subscribers.
The deal follows Whistle’s pickup of New Form earlier this year, a deal that gave Discovery, ITV, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer equity positions in Whistle. In a press release announcing the Vertical acquisition, Whistle said it is on track to double its revenue in 2019. The company has raised more than $100 million from investors such as Jeffrey Katzenberg’s WndrCo, NBC Sports, Sky Sports, Liberty Global and Tegna since its 2014 launch.
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Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Under the deal, current Vertical Networks shareholders, including affiliates of Elisabeth Murdoch and Snap, are becoming shareholders in Whistle.
The transaction marks the latest combination of assets in a highly active digital dealmaking sector, with others including Vice Media buying Refinery29 and Vox taking over New York magazine. With myriad pressures weighing on digital properties once they get funded, up and running, scaling back and then looking for partners has been the next phase in the life cycle of many companies. Business models have been squeezed by the dominance of Facebook and Google in the overall digital ad space and the growing competition in the subscription arena.
Whistle currently has 12 shows on Snapchat, including two new originals, Can’t Talk Now and Two Sides, produced by New Form, plus ongoing titles No Days Off, Dunk League and Whistle Worthy.
“There’s a natural synergy between Whistle and Vertical Networks, and we are excited to welcome aboard their team,” Whistle president Michael Cohen said. “We both have mobile first in our DNA, we invest in data-backed IP creation, and we produce relatable content optimized by platform to engage today’s audiences through both short and longer formats.”
The deal will see veteran Vertical Networks staffer Jordan Hill promoted to SVP and general manager, reporting to Cohen. New Form’s Kathleen Grace will work closely with Hill and Cohen to execute the Vertical Networks post-acquisition plan and consult on Brother’s programming strategy as well as Whistle’s larger content slate.
Following the integration period, Grace will concentrate on her executive producer endeavors including Two Sides and Can’t Talk Now; an untitled fashion documentary series for Quibi; and sci-fi drama Don’t Look Deeper, starring Don Cheadle, Emily Mortimer and Helena Howard, among other projects.
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