Jun 21, 2022 - Economy

Exclusive: The Ankler raises $1.5M seed at $20M valuation

Photo credit: Todd Williamson

Ankler Media, an entertainment news company, has raised a $1.5 million seed round at a $20 million valuation, its CEO and editor-in-chief Janice Min tells Axios.

Why it matters: A bearish market has made it difficult for media companies to raise hefty sums at lofty valuations. Ankler Media’s modest raise and steady growth strategy is a likely path forward for most media upstarts.

Catch up quick: Ankler Media is led by co-owners Min and Hollywood reporting veteran Richard Rushfield, who serves as chief columnist and editorial director.

  • Min is best known for her time as a transformative editor at The Hollywood Reporter. Rushfield has written about the the show business for years at various publications such as The Los Angeles Times, Yahoo! and Gawker.
  • Rushfield has authored a well-read newsletter about the entertainment business called The Ankler since 2017. The email moved over to Substack in 2019.
  • Min joined forces with Rushfield in early 2022 to launch a media company around his newsletter and beyond. The duo took part in an incubator program run by Y Combinator, a venture firm that's invested in other publishing adjacent companies like The Athletic and Substack.

Details: The company raised $1.5 million in a seed round from Y Combinator and an array of investors pitched during a Y Combinator “Demo Day,” a speed round event that matches startups with potential investors.

  • Additional investors include Dick Parsons’ Imagination Capital, Goodwater Capital, Pioneer Fund, FilKor Capital and several individual investors.
  • “Its a real pressure test on a business,” Min said. “You boil down your entire message to one slide with four points and a 60-second video.”

The money is being used to hire more staff and to roll out more subscription newsletters about entertainment news and analysis.

  • The team currently consists of three full-time employees: Min, Rushfield, and Bellinda Alvarez, who serves as chief revenue officer.
  • The company brought on Tatiana Siegel, senior writer at Rolling Stone and Hollywood Reporter veteran, as editor at large. It plans to begin building out a small newsroom with more contributing editors with the money raised.

By the numbers: Ankler Media's valuation was set “around current market conditions around subscription media,” Min told Axios.

  • While Ankler Media isn't releasing its number of paid subscriptions, it says paid subscriptions has grown 92% since Min joined the company late last year. it has a total of 22,000 subscriptions, both free and paid.
  • “Were very happy with the number,” Min said of paid subscribers. The company said paid subscription revenue has increased annual subscription revenue by 170% since last year.
  • For 2022, Min expects revenue from sponsorships to be in the low seven figures. Most of the company’s corporate sponsorship partners are entertainment giants, like Amazon, Hulu and Viacom.
  • Min said the company is profitable.

What's next: Ankler Media is looking to expand its business to the UK, where Min sees a large opportunity to disrupt the entertainment news industry, both from an editorial and commercial perspective.

  • The company recently piloted a subscription newsletter about available intellectual property in the entertainment space “that’s developed an audience very quickly out of the gate,” Min said.
  • It also recently merged The Wakeup, another Substack newsletter, into The Ankler email and added its author Sean McNulty to its roster of contributing writers. “Entertainment Strategy Guy,” an anonymous, longtime Hollywood executive who analyzes the business of streaming, is also a contributor.
  • In addition to newsletters, Ankler Media publishes a weekly podcast called "The Ankler Hot Seat" and it recently acquired Rob Long's "Martini Shot" podcast about Hollywood, formerly of NPR.

The big picture: The entertainment industry is facing a moment of reckoning that has benefited Ankler Media.

  • On the business side, stocks from major streaming companies are tanking in response to the economy and more competition that’s led to stalled growth broadly and financial reckoning at Netflix.
  • Several high-profile executives at Disney, WarnerMedia, Netflix and other firms have exited amid corporate shakeups, mergers and scandals.
  • Culturally, the Will Smith Oscars slap, Disney’s showdown with Florida and the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial have brought an unprecedented level of public attention to the entertainment sector.

The bottom line: “This is a very 2022 way to build a media business,” Min said. “We had the benefit of seeing the current landscape to see how we could do something different.”

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