When online users go to the NowThis home page, they're met with a greeting akin to one you might utter after unexpectedly running into your mother at a nightclub: "What are you doing here?"
NowThis, on the largely blank page, tells visitors: "Homepage. Even The Word Sounds Old." Viewers are then pointed elsewhere, to Facebook (FB - Get Report) , Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) , Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, Tumbler and Alphabet's (GOOG - Get Report) YouTube.
On Thursday, Discovery Communications (DISCA - Get Report) agreed to spend $100 million for a 35% stake in digital venture Group Nine Media that will include NowThis; Thrillist Media Group, best known for its eponymous male-focused website; animal enthusiast/advocate site The Dodo; and Discovery's own Seeker. (The former three are all portfolio holdings of New York venture capital fund Lerer Hippeau Ventures.) Discovery will have to option to take a controlling stake in the future after the deal close, which the company expected to come in the fourth quarter.
The investment is a bet on the idea that websites are becomingly irrelevant, especially so for younger people.
Advertisers, said Ian Schafer, founder and chairman of Deep Focus, a digital marketing agency that has done business with NowThis, also are embracing this new reality.
"In a digital age, custom content created for advertisers can't just sit on a website, it needs to be distributed and in a way that works well on any platform," Schafer said. "NowThis has completely rebuffed the website model."
Employing about 120 people from offices in Soho, NowThis makes a slew of short videos based on news stories. Some are repackages of popular trending headlines, some are commentary, some are just plain wacky. But regardless of the angle, one thing stands out: They're wildly popular. NowThis is the largest video news publisher on Facebook, with a ridiculously gigantic 2.4 billion video views each month, according to Thrillist Media.
The notion that neither content nor advertising need rely on any particular website is the hallmark of Kenneth Lerer, the digital venture investor and innovator who started NowThis with partner Eric Hippeau and helped to create BuzzFeed, which famously said at its inception in 2006 that it wasn't interested in display advertising. Lerer, also a co-founder of The Huffington Post, now serves as Buzzfeed chairman.
Thrillist, created and helmed by Lerer's son, Ben, took a similar tack when it launched in 2006 as an email newsletter. Rather than wait for an audience to come to a website, the Lerer strategy is to bring the content to the viewer (who doubles as a consumer). Thrillist was quick to marry commerce and content, acquiring online clothing retailer JackThreads in 2010.
"NowThis has really embraced the idea that the content lives everywhere," Schafer added. "The value to an advertiser is that they can create content that they know an audience is going to want to see."
No wonder then that New York Times (NYT - Get Report) is doing something similar with its T Brand Studio, creating branded content that can help market and sustain its newspaper business. The newspaper company has been keenly aware for some time that people are increasingly getting their news from social media, a trend confirmed by the Pew Research Center in a May report. A full 62% of those surveyed, young and old, said they aren't going to NYTimes.com but instead finding stories of interest on their social media platforms.
Yet whereas T Brand Studio is producing for one medium, NowThis can work with any number of brands to create content or push content from the Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet as well as Eurosport, the European sports channel Discovery acquired in several stages from 2012 to October 2015 at a cost of $1.1 billion.
That arrangement could be particularly helpful given that ratings for Discovery's networks have declined this year, a reality that President and CEO David Zaslav said last month was partly the result of heightened interest in the presidential campaign. Jefferies media analyst John Janedis lowered his estimates for Discovery's ad sales growth for the third quarter, citing weaker ratings, though he did the same for AMC Networks (AMCX - Get Report) , CBS (CBS - Get Report) , 21st Century Fox (FOXA) and Disney (DIS - Get Report) .
Yet the point is clear -- Discovery needs new revenue streams to offset a decline in ad sales and the slow erosion of viewers from the traditional pay-TV bundle. Ratings fell 8% across cable TV networks in the third quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence.
For Discovery, which has seen its stock fall by more than two-thirds over the past three years, NowThis may be a bet worth making. Shares closed at $25.29 on Monday, down 5 cents, making seven consecutive losing trading sessions.
The company declined to comment beyond its statement.
Discovery turned to Proskauer Rose for legal counsel on the deal, while Group Nine used LionTree Advisors for financial advice and Cooley for legal counsel.