By Sahil Patel
Whistle Sports, the largest sports-focused digital video startup and YouTube network, has closed a Series B round for the amount of $28 million.
The funding was led by Emil Capital Partners — an affiliate of the German-based conglomerate Tengelmann Group — and includes new investor Liberty Global Ventures. Existing investors Derek Jeter and Peyton Manning came back for the Series B round, which also includes a $7 million investment made by British Sky Broadcasting last October.
In total, Whistle Sports has now raised $36 million.
Having initially launched with a YouTube multi-channel network a year ago, Whistle Sports now extends across eight different social and digital platforms, including Facebook, Xbox, Vine, Instagram, and Snapchat. In total, Whistle claims a monthly audience of 50 million — its YouTube network alone has grown to 12 million subscribers across 225 channel partners — with 2.5 million new followers coming in every week.
As a result, ad revenue is on the up, “more than doubling each quarter,” according to the startup’s founder and CEO John West. The new money will be used to accelerate audience and revenue growth, with a focus on international markets. This is where Liberty Global and Sky — two of the biggest pay-TV providers in Europe — will come in.
What’s particularly compelling about those two investors, though, is the content and promotional opportunities they open up for Whistle.
Like other YouTube networks, Whistle routinely pairs its creators with brands and media companies to produce youth-oriented, original short-form video. Some of the company’s media partners are pro sports leagues, including the NFL, NASCAR, MLB (through its MLB Advanced Media division), and the PGA Tour. Often, videos created with any of these partners feature a mix of Whistle Sports talent and pro sports stars and/or venues.
Sky controls rights to air the English Premier League and other major sports in the UK. When Sky announced its investment in October, the companies said they would collaborate on content featuring talent from Whistle and Sky Sports, as well as explore various promotional opportunities aimed at introducing each network to the other’s audience. Whistle will do the same with Liberty Global, which wants to a bigger player in the sports-broadcasting business.
As for the potential of bringing Whistle Sports to TV (as other YouTube networks are increasingly attempting to do), that’s not immediately in the cards. “Unlike their parents or grandparents, our target audience consumes video on social platforms first, digital platforms second, and traditional television third,” says West. “That’s how we are prioritizing our time and growth as well.”
That said, with two of the world’s largest TV companies as investors and partners, Whistle is in a good spot if it ever chooses to take such a leap.
More immediately, it’s about expanding across more social and digital platforms. This includes launching apps for more over-the-top platforms. Whistle already has an Xbox app. Expect a few more to roll out in 2015, though West declines to reveal which platforms the company has its eyes on.
If you’re keeping score, this is just the latest in a long line of big-money bets that traditional media has made in the YouTube/MCN ecosystem — it was a major trend in 2014 and should continue well into 2015.