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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

Go deeper

Discovery joins Hollywood streaming wars with launch of discovery+

Discovery

Discovery on Wednesday launched its new global entertainment streaming service discovery+ for $4.99 monthly. It will also include a $6.99 monthly ad-free tier in the U.S.

Why it matters: Discovery joins a very crowded field of entertainment streaming services vying for consumers' budgets.

Report: U.S. calls for UN-led Afghan peace talks

Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, D.C., in February. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani steps including a UN-facilitated summit to revive stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Afghanistan's TOLOnews first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Blinken expresses concern in the letter, also obtained by Western news outlets, of a potential "spring offensive by the Taliban" and that the "security situation will worsen and the Taliban could make rapid territorial gain" after an American military withdrawal, even with the continuation of U.S. financial aid.

Harry and Meghan accuse British royal family of racism

Photo: Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via Reuters

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle delivered a devastating indictment of the U.K. royal family in their conservation with Oprah Winfrey: Both said unnamed relatives had expressed concern about what the skin tone of their baby would be. And they accused "the firm" of character assassination and "perpetuating falsehoods."

Why it matters: An institution that thrives on myth now faces harsh reality. The explosive two-hour interview gave an unprecedented, unsparing window into the monarchy: Harry said his father and brother "are trapped," and Markle revealed that the the misery of being a working royal drove her to thoughts of suicide.