Oct 20, 2020 - Sports

Esports network VENN raises $26 million Series A round

Photo: VENN

The Video Game Entertainment and News Network (VENN) will announce Tuesday a $26 million Series A investment round co-led by BITKRAFT Ventures, an eSports and gaming venture capital firm, as well as Nexstar Media Group, executives told Axios.

Why it matters: The network started out in streaming, but will now be moving some of its shows to linear television through its strategic partnership with Nexstar. Large production networks typically operated in the opposite direction — making shows for linear TV and then selling them to streaming distributors later.

The goal of the raise, VENN's co-founders Ben Kusin and Ariel Horn told Axios, is to help expand and broaden VENN's audience using Nexstar's mass reach.

  • Nexstar is one of the largest U.S. broadcast companies, with 197 television stations in 115 markets across the country. It also has a sizeable digital audience, with over 100 local news sites that collectively see over 100 million monthly uniques.
  • With the deal, Nexstar will secure the right to appoint a member to VENN’s board of directors, as well as exclusive rights to broadcast VENN for local television.

Details: Eldridge, WISE Ventures, Alumni Ventures Group, and the majority of the companies' existing seed investors also participated in the round.

  • VENN raised its $17 million seed round in September when it launched. Its' streaming deals with platforms like Twitch, YouTube and Snapchat
  • With its Series A raise, the company will also announce that Viacom and NBC Sports veteran Jeff Jacobs, will join the company as EVP & General Manager.
  • Jacobs will oversee VENN’s growth and expansion via its content and business operations.

Between the lines: Horn and Kusin both come from gaming backgrounds.

  • Horn was perviously the Global Head of eSports Content and Executive Producer of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) at Riot Games. (LCS is one of the biggest global Esports franchises.) Kusin was previously an executive at Vivendi Games which later merged with Activision Blizzard.

The big picture: Esports is one of the fastest-growing segments in sports entertainment. The sector is expected to bring in over $1 billion in revenue for the first time this year.

  • Over the past few months, sports broadcasters have leaned into eSports to fill the programming gaps left from professional sports leagues canceling games.
  • "All of traditional media is trying to make itself more future-proof," Kusin said. "This is an attractive crossover moment."
  • Kusin notes that VENN's investment in quality programming, via a top-of-the-line studio and professional Esports analysis makes VENN's shows "palatable for a TV audience but able to pass muster for a streaming generation."

What's next: The company hopes to announce an international expansion in the near future.

Go deeper: Inside the esports investment boom

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