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Vice Media acquires Refinery29 – Axios

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Vice Media LLC has acquired Refinery29, the venture-backed digital media company focused on millennial women. Deal terms were not disclosed, but sources say the combined valuation is close to $4 billion.

Why it matters: It’s the latest media mega-merger between two venture-backed companies that are looking to consolidate for survival.

Details: The deal was signed Tuesday in New York by Vice Media CEO Nancy Dubuc and Refinery29 co-CEO’s Justin Stefano and Philippe von Borries.

  • Money: CNN reported Monday that the deal was rumored to be less than $500 million. Refinery29 has raised over $120 million to date. Executives said in May that the company brought in more than $100 million in revenue last year.
  • Strategy: According to a Vice spokesperson, the hope is that the acquisition will bring the company one step closer to profitability. Refinery29 will remain a distinct brand within the Vice Media Group portfolio, the companies said in a statement.
  • Finances: Guggenheim Securities, LLC served as financial adviser and Shearman & Sterling LLP as legal adviser to Vice. Allen & Company LLC and The Raine Group served as financial advisers and Gunderson Dettmer as legal adviser to Refinery29.

What’s in it for Vice: The deal will help the company reach more female millennials and bring in more female employees. It will also bolster Vice’s e-commerce, events and studios businesses, both of which are key focuses for Refinery29.

  • “Vice Media’s previous employee base had an equal gender split. Now, with the addition of Refinery29, Vice Media Group will have a workforce that is majority women,” the company said in a release.

What’s in it for Refinery29: Vice will help Refinery29 scale internationally, which has been a growth goal for a long time. Vice says its global footprint accounts for 50% of its revenue.

The backstory: In November, Disney wrote down $157 million of its initial $400 million investment in Vice 3 years ago, shortly after reports suggested that the company was expected to lose $50 million as its revenue fell flat.

  • Vice had scrapped a plan for a 2018 IPO. Reports surfaced that year of sexual harassment problems, which also led to the ousting of CEO and co-founder Shane Smith.
  • In May, Axios reported that Refinery29 was looking to raise an additional $20 million and had already secured about $8 million from its initial investors.
  • The new investment, which would be in the form of convertible debt, would bring the total amount the firm has raised to $145.4 million since 2010.
  • Rumors have been circulating for months that Refinery29 was in talks to sell.

Be smart: Both companies have faced layoffs and product consolidations over the past few years as the advertising landscape has shifted for media companies.

  • Vice Media laid off 10% of its workforce in February. Roughly 250 jobs were cut across all department and job levels.
  • Refinery29 confirmed last October that it would lay off 40 employees — roughly 10% of its staff. In December 2017, it laid off 34 employees.

What’s next: The purpose of the merger is to bring synergies to both companies that will enable them to grow faster and scale their digital operations.

  • Vice says that its revenue performance was the best in the company’s history for the first half of this year, up more than 14% year-over-year in the 2nd quarter alone. It attributes that success to its branded content and licensing studios.
  • Refinery29 has also experienced growth in its licensing operations. In May, Axios reported that the company’s fundraising efforts would be used to expand its originals studio and events business, as well as to grow internationally.

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