Hearst Invests $21 Million in Pop-Culture Network Complex Media

Publisher Targeting Brands That Can Turn Into 'Cable Networks of the Future'

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Hearst has made another bet on an emerging pop-culture brand, investing $21 million in Complex Media, a digital-media company that operates websites devoted to music, fashion, food and movies.

Hearst, the publisher of Cosmopolitan and Esquire magazines, last year acquired a 25% stake in youth-focused online programmer AwesomenessTV and invested in Vice Media through its jointly owned A&E Networks. This most recent round brings the total raised by Complex, whose properties include the fan-boy site Collider, to $52 million, according to a statement Tuesday.

Media companies are investing in online enterprises that provide promising, inexpensive new formats and talent at a time of uncertainty in the traditional TV business. Hearst, based in New York, is targeting very strong brands that could turn into cable networks of the future, said Neeraj Khemlani, president of the company's digital studios unit. He said Complex could especially help Hearst attracting young men.

"What really matters here is allowing great content creators and editors at Complex to be able to continue to super serve this very elusive audience," Mr. Khemlani said in an interview. "This is a way to learn from great brands, find ways for them to work together and look for opportunities."

Complex has been profitable since 2010, according to the statement. It will use the new capital to produce more original video, a major avenue of growth for the company, which began as a magazine, said Chief Executive Officer Rich Antoniello.

The company's network of channels generated 192 million monthly views last month, a fivefold jump from a year earlier. The company has sewn up collaborations with talent including Spike Lee, Tony Hawk and Bunim/Murray Productions, the company that makes shows including "Real World" and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

Complex, also based in New York, plans to produce television and movies for traditional media outlets and potentially for new distributors like Apple, according to Mr. Antoniello. Hearst owns local TV stations, as well as stakes in ESPN, A&E Networks and Esquire Network.

"We have a lot of assets, a lot of channels and distribution outlets, and a lot of high-end production companies" that can help them continue to grow, Mr. Khemlani said.

~Bloomberg News~