Vice Media to Acquire Refinery29

Refinery29-Getty-H 2019
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

The Refinery29 business will report into Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc, and leadership at the company, which has been run by co-CEOs Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano, is expected to be announced at a later date.

Vice Media has agreed to acquire Refinery29 in another major consolidation move within the media industry. 

The deal, which has been in the works for a few months, will bring together Vice's edgy, male-skewing take on news and culture with Refinery29's female-centric lifestyle brand. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the news Wednesday, it is expected to be a mix of cash and stock. 

Rebranding as Vice Media Group with the deal, the Nancy Dubuc-led business will continue to operate Refinery29 as a stand-alone brand. The company will now reach a global audience of 350 million unique viewers a month. 

"This is an expansive moment for independent media," Dubuc said in a statement. "Vice Media Group and Refinery29, two of the strongest independent voices in the industry, will continue to build a scaled global and diversified media company. We will not allow a rapidly consolidating media ecosystem to constrict young people's choices or their ability to freely express themselves about the things they care about most. At Vice and Refinery29, the megaphone is theirs to use and the platforms are theirs to build with us."

The Refinery29 business will report into Dubuc, and leadership at the company, which has been run by co-CEOs Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano, is expected to be announced at a later date. 

Refinery29 launched in 2005 to offer fashion-related content to millennial women. During the height of the digital media boom, the company raised over $125 million in venture financing. In 2016, Turner led a $45 million round that valued the company at $500 million.

But like many of its peers, Refinery29 expanded quickly while struggling to meet revenue goals. In October 2018, it laid off around 10 percent of its staff — or more than 40 employees — as it expected to miss its annual revenue projections by about 5 percent. At the time, the company said it was refocusing its video efforts away from shortform social videos. "While this type of content has been driving views, it has not yielded a great monetization strategy to justify the same level of continued investment," von Borries and Stefano said in a jointly written memo to staff. According to The Wall Street Journal, Refinery29's revenue has increased and its losses have shrunk in 2019. 

The digital brands at Vice and Refinery29 are seen as complementary because they reach different audiences. Refinery29, meanwhile, will add to Vice's production infrastructure with its Originals division — which has grown in revenue by 110 percent year-over-year — and will bring robust experiential and e-commerce businesses. 

With the deal, Vice plans to grow content production across all platforms by 20 percent. Vice, which has some 30 offices around the world, also will scale Refinery29's operational internationally. (New York-based Refinery29 has offices in Los Angeles, London, Toronto and Berlin.)  

"Along with our co-founders Christene Barberich and Piera Gelardi, and our incredible team, we built Refinery29 with a mission to represent and inspire women," von Borries and Stefano said in a joint statement. "This transformational partnership will allow our mission and business to flourish further. We are proud to partner with Nancy and Vice Media Group, and we are confident that together we will be able to expand our vital role in shaping culture and positively impacting the world for young people everywhere."

Just one week ago, Vox Media announced that it would be acquiring New York Magazine in a deal that Pam Wasserstein, CEO of the publication's parent company New York Media, described as “creating a new kind of media company.”

For Vice, the Refinery29 acquisition comes a little more than a year into Dubuc’s tenure as CEO as she has worked to chart a profitable path for the once high-flying digital upstart. The company, per insiders, had its best first-half revenue performance in its history, and revenue was up 14 percent year-over-year during the second quarter.

“Bringing together our companies signals a new era of lasting change in digital media,” said Dubuc. “We are doubling down on the power of brand, voice and experience — things our audience puts trust in — as we strengthen our position for a competitive future.”

The deal is expected to close by the end of the year. Guggenheim Securities and Shearman & Sterling served as Vice's financial and legal advisors in the transaction. Allen & Co., The Raine Group and Gunderson Dettmer advised Refinery29.