Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC exclusive interview with Vox Media Chair & CEO Jim Bankoff and Group Nine Media Founder & CEO Ben Lerer on CNBC’s “TechCheck” (M-F, 11AM-12PM ET) airing today, Tuesday, December 14th. Following is a link to video on CNBC.com:
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Vox Media To Acquire Group Nine In Media Merger, Pending Regulatory Approval
JULIA BOORSTIN: Vox Media is set to merge with Group Nine, parent company of brands such as NowThis, PopSugar and Thrillist. Under the all stock deal, Vox will hold 75% ownership of the company with the remaining 25% going to Group Nine. The deal is on pace to close in early 2022, pending regulatory approval. Joining us now to discuss the deal is Vox Media Chair and CEO Jim Bankoff and Group Nine Founder and CEO Ben Lerer. Also, a quick note that NBCUniversal is an investor in Vox Media. Thank you both so much for joining us. I'm going to start off with you Jim. I know you've known Ben for a while. Why did it feel like now's the time when it was necessary to do this kind of a deal?
JIM BANKOFF: Well, first of all, thank you. We couldn't be more excited to announce this today. Ben and I have known each other for a while. It's a, it's a small group of media entrepreneurs that have emerged in the last decade or so and we have helped each other out in a support group. And then we got to talking and we realized that the time was right now. Both of these companies have, we have a lot in common even though we're different. We share the values of quality work. We want to treat our employees and our teams well and we want to be ambitious and be successful. We program things in different ways but between the two of us, we have the best portfolio in media, touching every conceivable content category, doing it at scale, doing it across every conceivable modern distribution platform from Roku to TikTok to podcasts to websites to the biggest streaming services. I can go on and on. When you put the two together, it's a company that is not only strong financially, but is strong in its work, strong in its culture and we're excited to plow forward.
BOORSTIN: Yeah. Ben, I'm curious for your perspective on sort of the pressure to scale. You know, you have these brands that consumers really love but when you're competing for ad dollars with both the media giants and the social media platforms, how important is scale and what will that do for your properties?
BEN LERER: Well, I think scale is a, is a path to optionality and that's really what we're excited about here. I think that this space has, has never had a company that's going to have the sorts of choices that we have in front of us with, you know, I think Jim gives a pretty good pitch as you just heard for all the different things and strengths that we have. And now we're going to get to go out and I think be the acquirer of choice and we're just set up to be able to take advantage of a marketplace where being small has been difficult and we are far advanced now from sort of startup life and into being really one of the leading modern media companies so incredibly, incredibly excited.
JON FORTT: Jim, for folks who aren't paying attention to digital media in the business of digital media every day, give a sense of the state of play between third party programmatic and say what you’ve got internally with Concert and why it's important for you to sort of own brands, have an audience that isn't coming to you necessarily through somebody else but that is loyal to those brands and the content.
BANKOFF: For sure. Well, great to see you again. We, we operate at scale for our advertisers, increasingly marketers are coming to us and they want one stop shopping. They want breadth and scale that matters. They want adjacency and context that matters. You mentioned programmatic, what Vox Media and particularly now post this acquisition, is able to offer marketers is best in class properties and adjacencies so when you're building brand, you know that you will be in a safe environment. You know that you will be in a highly performing environment and you know that you will be able to do that at scale. And that's a valued proposition that not many others can provide the way that we can together. You mentioned our Concert program, what Concert enables us to do is bring in other publishers as well, other premium publishers who can benefit from being part of that scale and we can go to marketers with a one stop value proposition that hits really about 98, 99 now percent of the, of the digital universe so if you look at the properties that we own and operate now, we are easily a top 10 media company per Comscore. And if you add our reach with digital partners, ranging from Penske Media to NBCUniversal, we reach even considerably more and we're excited to provide something really valuable to our advertising partners.
FORTT: Ben, how important is that and what Jim just described in Concert to you doing this deal at this point. There’ve been rumors about Group Nine talking to folks for a while now. We see what's happening with BuzzFeed over the past few days in the public market, how important is Concert and that sort of optionality?
LERER: I think, I think Concert is one of the many things that we love about Vox and, you know, and I think Jim sort of alluded to this, but just the, the data that we have access to across all of these properties now is even that much more valuable and that much more of a moat in terms of our advertising relationships. But you know, Concert is one piece but again, there's, there's just so much to like here and you're right. We have spent a lot of time out in market understanding sort of what our options could be. Most of those conversations, we approached as a buyer. But the reality was as we got to look inside of this, of every company in the space, it was so clear that Vox Media was really head and shoulders above everybody else, exquisitely well run, unbelievable brands, incredibly diversified revenue, tons of growth. It's a, it's a dream and getting to partner with Jim is something I'm incredibly excited about. And, you know, I'm sort of pinching myself today.
BANKOFF: I share that excitement on all of that. It's, it's audio, scale with podcasting, it's video across all conceivable platforms, and between the topics that we cover, the platforms and the media types that we cover them on, this is the winning combination.
BOORSTIN: Well, you know, clearly Vox is in a different position than some of the other companies in the space such as BuzzFeed, but you can't talk about Vox and Group Nine without talking about BuzzFeed. For so many years, these companies were really in the same category. We've just recently had this BuzzFeed IPO the stock, I'm sorry, BuzzFeed going public via SPAC and the stock falling off a cliff and I'm wondering how that impacts your perspective, Jim, on your plans to go public and what you would want investors to know about how maybe your company is different than BuzzFeed.
BANKOFF: Well, first of all, Jonah is another one of those people who have kind of grown up building companies together. We are, we are friendly. We have mutual respect. It's, it's hard doing this, and I have nothing but respect for what he has accomplished and continues to accomplish and we're really happy to see them hit the public markets. As you pointed out, we're very different companies. We, we have different products. We have different cultures, we have different finances. And, you know, you opened up by saying you can't talk about one without the other, you actually can. We do it every day. We respect them but we operate in our own lane that focuses on a lot of different things, has different, you know, again, has different financial profile, different work profile. So, while we're different companies, what we share is a belief in the growth of media. I think, you know, speaking only for myself and for Vox media, gone are the days of quote unquote digital media companies anyway, you know, particularly with this acquisition of Group Nine and Vox Media coming together. We are just one of the largest media companies and it's probably even redundant to use the word digital media company. If you're not a digital media company, I'm not sure, you know, your, your future is going to be very bright. So we started in in digital, we are now one of the top media companies period and we're going to keep growing from here.
BOORSTIN: Well, fair enough. Every company is a digital company and every media company is certainly a digital media company. Jim, Ben, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about this big deal.
LERER: Thank you so much.
BANKOFF: Thank you. Take care.