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Group Nine scores $100 million for viral content empire

Viral content maker Group Nine Media will use a $100 million investment to recruit talent amid a challenging media landscape, the CEO told CNBC.

Group Nine is a new holding company that merges Thrillist Media Group, NowThis Media, The Dodo and Discovery's digital network Seeker, already among Facebook and YouTube's top publishers. The combined entity last week announced a $100 million investment from Discovery Communications, to create more of the millennial-focused content.

As the pipelines from content producers to consumers have shifted from television to social media, a combined digital media company is more "forceful," Ben Lerer, a founder of Thrillist Media Group and CEO of Group Nine Media, told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Monday.

Ben Lerer
David Orrell | CNBC
Ben Lerer

"With the power that Facebook and Google wield right now, in the industry, you want to avoid being a brand — even a strong brand — that's floating out there on your own," Lerer said.

Legacy media companies have a cost structure that isn't built for the digital world, as consumers move away from bundled cable packages, Lerer said. Taking stakes in more nimble digital companies lets TV companies focus on protecting their core business, he said.

"We see consolidation coming," Lerer said. "This has happened in every generation of media. This happened in the cable business in the '70s and '80s, as the cable networks emerged and ended up sort of banding together."

Despite the challenges facing the industry, the media business is still attractive to some, including Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has reportedly floated the idea of a Trump television network, according to the Financial Times.

Trump's campaign has become the "new normal" for how news and politics will intersect, Lerer said.

"Building a media business from scratch is almost impossible," Lerer said of the Kushner report. "They have the money, they have the backing, they could go and do this. I pray that they don't, for many reasons."

— NBCUniversal has an investment in Group Nine Media's NowThis News.