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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.

Go deeper

Dec 15, 2020 - Economy & Business

Scoop: Vox Media Studios targets $100 million in 2021 revenue

Vox Media Studios website

Vox Media Studios, the video and audio production arm of Vox Media, is planning to bring in $100 million in 2021 revenue while producing twice as many shows as 2020, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

Why it matters: Vox Media hasn't been immune from the pandemic’s financial headwinds on digital publishers, but the studios revenue would be a huge number for the company, which reportedly expected $300 million in overall 2020 revenue.

Axios roundtable on small business

On Thursday, September 24 Axios' Sara Fischer and Dan Primack hosted the first in a series of three virtual roundtables, featuring business leaders, innovators, and policy experts to discuss how small businesses have adapted to the COVID-19 economy, the role of digital tools, and the path forward.

Moderators highlighted a study recently by Connected Commerce Council that showed 93% of small businesses were affected by coronavirus in loss of revenue, loss of customer base, the inability to use brick and mortar facilities, or access to staff. Attendees unpacked small business needs in a time of crisis, the impact of the Paycheck Protection Program, and broader trends in entrepreneurship.

Trevor Parham, founder and director of Oakstop and co-founder of the Oakland Black Business Fund discussed how capital buys small businesses time to make better informed decisions:

  • "A big part of what businesses need is not just the capital and not just the education, but it's the resource of time...A big part of what businesses are lacking at the small business level, especially minority businesses, is they don't have the runway to contemplate what they want to do as their next strategic move where some other businesses might."

Aerica Shimizu Banks, founder at Shiso LLC highlighted the specific needs of Black and minority owned businesses:

  • "The SBA and government agencies are somewhat limited in targeting by race and therefore create race blind policies that have the unintended consequences of sometimes cementing inequity in the distribution of resources and loans."
  • "There is also a strong story of resilience here for business owners of color, for women-owned businesses, that despite these challenges in the midst of this crisis, what we're seeing is that particularly business owners of color have been making the best of this pandemic in converting to digital."

Sery Kim, assistant administrator at the US Small Business Administration, Office of Women's Business Ownership discussed the most common obstacle for women starting their own businesses.

  • "The number one barrier for women being entrepreneurs is not access to capital. It is childcare."

Emilia Dimenco, Women's Business Development Center president and CEO on what small businesses need during economically turbulent periods:

  • "They really need technical assistance. A large corporation would hire a major consulting firm to help them pivot, help them through a major change. A small business can't do that. [They need] quality advisory services, and financial and business acumen."

Thank you Google for sponsoring this event.

German elections: After close result, jockeying to replace Merkel begins

Data: Preliminary results from German Federal Returning Officer; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) pulled off a come-from-behind victory in Sunday’s elections, 10 seats ahead of the Christian Democrats (CDU), which failed to finish top for the first time in 16 years.

State of play: SPD leader Olaf Scholz has said he’ll seek to form a government, but so too has Armin Laschet, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor as CDU leader.