clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Another Old Media-New Media Bet: Hearst Invests $21 Million in Dude-Centric Complex

Things that dudes like + lots of video = an investable company.

Complex via YouTube
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Big media companies have lots of cash. But they’re worried that won’t help them if they can’t find new audiences.

Enter the new breed of digital publishers, who say they can solve that problem. You’re familiar with some of the ways this plays out. Now here’s another one: Hearst is investing $21 million for a minority share in Complex, a network of pop culture websites.

Hearst executive Neeraj Khemlani, who runs the company’s digital studios and steered this investment, will take a board seat at Complex. Complex started out in 2002 as designer Marc Ecko’s fashion magazine and now says it reaches 57 million visitors a month in the U.S. and generates 192 million video views a month.

Khemlani says the impulse behind the deal is the same one that has led Hearst to take stakes in AwesomenessTV and, via its partial ownership in TV programmer A&E, in Vice Media: Hearst knows that digital video is a big deal, and it wants to work with companies that do a lot of digital video.*

“Nobody knows where anything is going, so we’re comfortable taking minority stakes in a bouquet of bets around the most signature brands,” he said.

Hearst’s $21 million is “predominantly” going into Complex as a direct investment, says CEO Rich Antoniello, though some of the money will go back out to early shareholders via secondary sales. Complex says it has raised $52 million to date, including a $25 million investment from Iconix Brand Group in 2013 that valued the company at $174 million.

* Hearst has also made bets on digital publishers BuzzFeed and Refinery29, but those are venture investments, so the company views them as a different kind of wager.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.