Commentary

Group Nine Make No Small Plans

TWO  FOR TODAY. . . One of the great things about digital media is that it doesn’t take long before you can tout some stupendous viewership numbers. So it is with Group Nine. It’s a collection of video properties led by Ben Lerer, who last year took his places (Thrillist, Now This and Dodo) and connected them to Discovery Communications’ Seeker. Oh yes, Discover also plunked down a reported $100 million to help it happen.

At its NewFront Thursday, Group Nine could boast it is “the number 1 most engaging publisher of all the top 10 scaled video publishers in the world” according to stats from Tubular Labs. In April, the publicity department notes, “more than 96 million social actions were taken on our content.” And throughout the night it seemed to push out new project announcements the way Dunkin' makes donuts.

Each of its properties serve an interested crowd: Thrillist is a kind of lifestyle, good food, good eats kind of thing, The Dodo is for animal lovers, Seeker for science and tech, and NowThis, a news site (that, quite aside from anything to do with NewFronts,  never fails to make me think of a shrill tenement mama berating her son for that stupid tattoo he just got. )

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But back to the NewFronts, it calls itself  “the number 1 most-watched video news creator on social covering the stories that matter to young people.” Its biggest tangible piece of news is NowThis just hired Kaj Larsen, former Vice and CNN correspondent, who becomes senior correspondent at Now. He’s working a sports-and-politics doc.  NowThis Sports will be new this fall, presuming if finds a sponsor.

Less fleshed out:  NowThis is launching 20 new series this year, including a 10-part series on “unknown women doing extraordinary and empowering powerful things.”(Seriously, if you are an unknown woman doing good things, there is a long line of streaming video companies this year who need to hear from you, stat.)

Big news at The Dodo is the upcoming Dodo For Kids, and a foray into virtual reality (which kind of took a back seat at this year’s NewFronts). Seeker is also doing another VR project exploring the far corners of the earth. In fact, Seeker is going all in on VR this year. Its biggest splash; It’s partnering with Solfar and RVX to debut :Seeker Mode” giving viewer a chance to feel what it’s like on the top of the world, piggybacking on its partners’ “Everest VR.”

Thrillist has a full plate of new programming, that through no specific fault of theirs sounds like lots of other streaming food and drink projects everywhere else in the same way restaurant menus mostly sound alike , too. It's all in the presentation! Something that might generate some outsized attention: A long-form pizza-making competition “that will span the digital, linear and physical worlds.” Not to be missed. And from the stats, it appears millions will put it on their calendar.

CHILD’S FIRST DONGLE:  PBS Kids on Thursday launched what it calls “the first ever kid-safe TV and playtime streaming stick,” the Plug & Play, for $49.99 and pre-loaded with sing-alongs and games and video that can be viewed without using wi-fi.  When it is connected to the Internet, it provides access to PBS KIds and 100 hours of on-demand videos.

The kicker: It comes packaged with a lime green remote and cute little toy-like race car plug-in dongle. I wondered about the safety of that--your little kid plugging in that thing on the side or back of your TV seems like it could be dangerous.  

A spokeswoman wrote that the streaming stick and all PBS products  "comply with all applicable children’s product safety rules as dictated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission  and are tested for compliance by a CPSC-accepted lab.”

She continues, “For the PBS Kids Plug & Play, we recommend the parent/caregiver plug the device into the television before allowing the child to play using the controller.” That sounds like good and necessary advice.

pj@mediapost.com

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