It’s a whole new playing field these days for music labels and publishers, and today one of the big three made an acquisition to help it sharpen up its strategy to better understand what people want to see and hear online today.
Warner Music — which owns labels like Atlantic, Elektra and others and has a huge roster of artists that includes the likes of Madonna, Ed Sheeran and Linkin Park — is acquiring IMGN Media, a Tel Aviv and New York-based startup that builds and tracks viral social media content in categories like e-sports and gaming, ASMR and entertainment.
IMGN used be called Comedy.com. It widened its remit from simply funny stuff and rebranded in 2017, and according to its site has about 3 billion views per month and has some 40 million subscribers to its content, with some 85% of that classified as “Gen Z and millennials.”
The news caps off several weeks of speculation about the startup. In July, reports in the Israeli press emerged that said IMGN was being circled by Snap for about $180 million; and further to that, a source told us that TikTok was also in the frame, looking at the company at around a price tag of $150 million. In the end, the terms of the deal were not disclosed but we understand that the deal was done for just under $100 million.
IMGN was founded in 2015 and had raised about $6 million from a long list of angels and some firms including Rhodium, Dot Capital and Prism Venture Management.
The plan will be to keep IMGN independent of Warner, continuing to develop and analyse viral content across a range of platforms, with founder Barak Shragai staying on to lead the team.
Warner, meanwhile, does not plan to use the platform to simply market its artists, but to tap it for more insights into where people are going online these days, and what they want to see, so that it can better target its own marketing efforts accordingly.
That’s not to say that the two will not work together at all. Warner became acquainted with the startup because it had been a customer of IMGN’s.
Warner has a history both of investing and acquiring startups, depending on its strategic interests. In July, for example, it took part in a Series B round for Canadian audio mastering startup Landr. Further back, it has acquired the likes of music concert listings platform Songkick and pop culture site Uproxx.
“WMG not only offers us greater investment and support, but an entrepreneurial environment to continue growing our business, with the people running our accounts having editorial independence,” said Shragai. “We’re excited to partner with them as we take our company into the future.”
The bigger picture here is that the music industry has evolved well beyond the world of publishing and selling physical media, with people learning about new artists and songs through the radio, TV and magazines.
With the shift to digital platforms, there’s also now a huge plethora of places where people discover and listen to music, and digital platforms themselves — from those focused specifically on audio and music, like Spotify, through to those where music is a side-hustle to continue to capture audience, like Facebook, through to those that are neither but are still huge music platforms, like TikTok — are also getting deeply involved in tracking how tastes are evolving, and where people are going to get their music fix. It’s only natural to see labels looking for ways to have more direct access to those insights themselves, bypassing all those platforms — even as they also work with them (and indeed, to help them negotiate better with those platforms, at the end of the day).