Dec 1, 2020 - Economy

Chernin Group invests $30 million in subscription media company Surfline


TCG, a venture affiliate of The Chernin Group that invests in media, entertainment and tech businesses, is investing $30 million in Surfline, a media company that focuses on surfing coverage and live wave and weather forecasts for surfers, executives tell Axios.

The big picture: For Chernin, the investment follows a similar pattern of investing in niche content businesses that don't rely on advertising.

  • TCG invested $50 million in the hunting media brand MeatEater last year.
  • It also took a majority stake last year in Food52, a home and food site, for $83 million.

Details: Surfline is a 35-year old privately held company, headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, with offices and employees around the country.

  • Its inception story is unique: The company started as a 1-900 phone line, where people could call and get the daily surf forecast for $1.99.
  • Today, it's one of the most trusted sources of information and editorial content for surfers in America.

While the business is mostly subscription-based ($9.99 monthly), it does have a small advertising business and a budding affiliates business. (The phone line business has been gone for more than 10 years now.)

  • A Surfline subscription includes access to its proprietary surfing forecasts, premium original content and perks like discounts on surf retailers.
  • The company says it has an audience of over 3 million, but it wouldn't disclose how many people pay for a subscription.
  • Some of that audience also draws from offshoot brands that are a part of the Surfline business, including Magicseaweed, Coastalwatch, Buoyweather and FishTrack.

The money will be used in part to improve Surfline's technology arm, which powers the proprietary swell and weather modeling tool used by surfers.

  • The model draws on expertise from surf forecasters, a 35-year-old surf data set, and over 700 live HD cameras set up worldwide that monitor waves.
  • With the new funding, the company will appoint former Disney and Amazon executive Kyle Laughlin as CEO.
  • Laughlin tells Axios that the funding will also be used to hire more employees around the country, particularly in product and engineering.

The bottom line: Laughlin tells Axios that his goal is to do what many other TCG-backed media companies have done, which is eventually set up several lines of revenue tied to the loyalty of a hyper-niche audience. He hopes to one day venture into commerce.

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