Lockhart Steele

Vox Media acquires Curbed Network for $20-30M

November 10, 2013: 9:35 PM ET

Vox Media has taken on sports, technology, and video games. Now it's getting into real estate.

By Jessi Hempel, senior writer

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FORTUNE -- Fortune has learned that ambitious digital media startup Vox Media will acquire Curbed Network, a saucy trio of urban lifestyle and entertainment blogs, for a mix of cash and stock valued between $20-30 million. Though Curbed has just 5 million monthly unique visitors, the deal will help Vox Media grow its business in new categories, including home, food, and style.

Reached by phone Sunday night, Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff said he was hoping to use the company's technology platform and its ad products to "blow out these major consumer categories."

Real estate blog Curbed was founded in 2004 as a side project by Lockhart Steele, who was then managing editor of Gawker Media. I first wrote about Steele's quippy site back in 2005 as part of an exploration into whether blogging counted as journalism. (It's a question nobody asks anymore, as media startups vie to become next-generation media empires.) In the interim, Curbed has spawned Eater, a blog that chronicles restaurants and nightlife, and Racked, which covers shopping and style. It now reaches beyond New York City to publish in 32 markets across the U.S. and Canada, and is reportedly making a several million dollars in profits annually.

Also reached on Sunday night, Steele said he and his team will join Vox Media's New York City operations where he will remain editor-in-chief of the three Curbed titles but also assist Vox in scouting new talent and opportunities. "There's not many people I'd sign up to have as a boss after running Curbed, and Jim is certainly one of them," he told me.

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Vox Media has grown its combined audience by a whopping 88% over the past year to nearly 57 million unique visitors. Bankoff is betting that he can do for Curbed what he has successfully done for Vox Media's three existing major brands: SB Nation is a collection of blogs that draws sports fans. Polygon.com features videogame news and features. And TheVerge.com, which is just two years old,* has distinguished itself for smart reporting on consumer technology. As part of the company's formula for success, Bankoff hires journalists and video producers and provides them the tools to do high-end reporting like this piece on Vaccine Deniers or this Sunday football preview video. He pairs this content with new advertising formats that make creative use of the medium, an experiment the company tweaks constantly thanks to Vox Media's nimble technology platform, which it calls Chorus.

Founded in 2003, Vox Media is dually headquarted in the Big Apple and Washington, D.C. where Bankoff, a former AOL executive, resides along with a large share of the company's engineering talent.

The acquisition comes just weeks after Vox raised $34 million in a round of funding led by Accel Partners that could grow to as much as $40 million, according to Fortune's Dan Primack. Look for the company to continue moving aggressively into new areas; with its war chest of cash, Vox Media likely isn't done making acquisitions.

*Correction: The original version of this story mentioned that Vox Media site TheVerge.com was "not yet two years old." In fact, the site was launched on November 1, 2011.

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