Refinery29, Vox, and the Content Trend That Won’t Stop


Last week, I wrote a little primer on content companies–what kinds are out there and how they’re making money.

This week two media companies are announcing some big fundraising rounds. Vox Media, based in Washington DC, announced closing on $34 million of a $40 million round. New York’s Refinery29 will close a $20 million Series C.

Vox Media is the publisher behind SB Nation and The Verge, as well as the newer Polygon. Their overall strategy centers around finding a vertical in which well-educated, fairly wealthy people are interested (sports, tech and gaming, so far) and developing the tech that will bring a great reading (and ad) experience. They sport the typical banner ads and are working on branded video series to keep the revenue coming in. Currently, the Vox Media properties see 60 million unique visitors a month, a number that makes expensive branded content a little more viable.

The Refinery29 story is particularly interesting because, as PandoDaily’s Erin Griffith reports, their funding will specifically help them pivot to a content-only company, as opposed to the content and commerce model they were experimenting with. In turns out that, at least for Refinery29, selling things directly wasn’t working out as well as expected. Only 5% of 2012 revenue came from commerce, while 95% was generated through ads and “branded experiences.”

Both companies rely on the typical advertising avenues, but they are also experimenting with branded content. This could work exceptionally well for  these sites, which have a strong brand personality of their own.

Right or wrong, in tech we often look to investments as the first milestone to success. If investment dollars say anything, it’s a big moment for media companies, many of which are being built everywhere else. We’ve come a long way from relying only on individual blogs and AOL news, and these companies are trying to build brands that will stand the test of time. Can they do it? Investors seem to think so.