Feb 22, 2024 2 min read

Jimmy Iovine and Universal-backed NTWRK buys Complex to capitalise on the superfan opportunity

Buzzfeed has sold youth culture media company Complex to NTWRK, which plans to build a digital hub that can capitalise on the superfan opportunity. Universal Music is a backer of NTWRK, and its Interscope Geffen A&M and Capital labels will be the first to utilise the combined NTWRK/Complex platform

Jimmy Iovine and Universal-backed NTWRK buys Complex to capitalise on the superfan opportunity

NTWRK - a platform that offers "curated livestream shopping experiences featuring the world's best creators" - has acquired youth culture media company Complex and announced partnerships with Universal Music labels Interscope Geffen A&M and Capital Music Group. The aim? To create a "digital hub at the forefront of convergence culture". So good news for fans of convergence culture. 

It is ultimately about capitalising on the superfan opportunity, which we already know is a priority for Universal Music right now. The plan, presumably, is to utilise Complex's brand and content to build a community onto which artists and other celebrities can push their superfan products and experiences. This interestingly contrasts with Warner Music selling off its media platforms at the same time as likewise making superfan products a key priority. 

"Complex has been a beacon of culture and innovation for over two decades", says NTWRK co-founder and CEO Aaron Levant, who also co-created the ComplexCon event. "My journey with Complex began as an admirer of their original magazine in 2002 and it has now come full circle as I step into the leadership role. Alongside this impressive team, we will create the definitive global content, commerce and experiential platform of convergence culture". 

The combined NTWRK/Complex is hoping to collaborate with all the majors and many indies on creating superfan products with their artists, although Universal is a "strategic partner". That partnership - and the fact the major's Interscope label will be involved from the off - is perhaps not surprising, given another NTWRK co-founder is Jamie Iovine, son of record industry veteran, former Universal exec and Interscope founder Jimmy Iovine

And Iovine Senior is also a backer. "Aaron Levant, along with Jamie Iovine and Gaston Dominguez-Letelier, are building an incredible platform and this acquisition will exponentially accelerate its growth", says he. "Combining the power and reach of Complex with the NTWRK engine serving creators across music, fashion and art will be transformative for the next generation of consumer technology". 

Warner Music got directly involved in the youth culture media business when it bought Uproxx in 2018 and then HipHopDX in 2020. Given that Warner Music CEO Robert Kyncl also talked up the superfan opportunity at the start of the year, you might have thought the company would seek to utilise those platforms to create something akin to what NTWRK/Complex has planned. 

However, Kyncl has also announced a round of downsizing at the mini-major which includes a plan to sell off Uproxx and HipHopDX. So, no then. 

NTWRK has bought Complex off Buzzfeed in a deal worth $108.6 million. Buzzfeed acquired Complex itself back in 2021 in a $294 million deal, although that did also include the First We Feast brand, which is not part of the NTWRK transaction. 

The Complex sale comes amid wide-ranging restructuring at Buzzfeed, which also includes a downsizing that will affect about 16% of its workforce. 

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