A parallel globe? How Play9 is building “an affiliate network” of online channels
It took a lot of research, reflection and a year and a half of weekly analysis sessions for João Pedro Paes Leme to convince himself that everything that disturbed him was not just a rapture. Or, in his words, a “psychotic break”. In September 2016, the decision finally came.
With a 24-year career, the journalist ended a two-decade cycle at Rede Globo de Televisão, where he worked as a reporter and held, at the time, the position of executive director of the sports center. The destiny? To embark and undertake in digital, with an eye on the growing impact of online in traditional media.
One of the first of his peers to follow this path, he was joined by a pioneering and quite influential name in the digital arena: youtuber Felipe Neto. In 2019, the duo created Play9, media tech that navigates precisely in the convergence between the two worlds personified by its founders.
“Play9 is like a network”, says Leme, co-founder and CEO of Play9, when NeoFeed. “But under this umbrella, instead of a television network, with its affiliates, we have people, who today are broadcasters and are their own means of communication. The middlemen got in the way.”
Before building its network, Play9 attracted a third partner. Former executive director of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Marcus Vinícius Freire joined the operation in the first month and helped to format a model that proposes other connotations for old communication concepts.
“We are an ecosystem of content and audience expansion. But we do not own this audience”, says Leme. “The owner is the influencer, the brand, the content or a format. And everyone benefits from being on a network that generates more business from that audience of followers.”
From the perspective of prioritizing creators and content, Play9’s approach comprises several formats and “screens”. From programming from a traditional network, such as TV Globo, to platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Kwai and Facebook.
“That influencer is the media. The message is with him”, says Leme. “And this also applies to brands, which can be their own publishers.”
Not a few “broadcasters” have embarked on Play9’s thesis. With different themes, the startup’s network involves both influencers who became famous in traditional media and those who built their reputations with the new generations, on the sidelines of these channels.
The first wave includes names such as journalists Fátima Bernardes, Ana Paula Padrão and Tino Marcos; the presenter Angelica; chef Paola Carosella; actresses Giovanna Ewbank and Regina Casé; commentator Gabriela Prioli; and sportsmen like Marta and Vinícius Júnior.
The second group, in addition to Felipe Neto himself, mixes youtubers, tiktokers and the like. Among them, influencers and channels such as Thallysson Borges, Professor Noslen, Silvio Almeida, Metaforando and Pipocando.
With this cast, Play9 already has more than 500 million followers or subscribers, and more than 5 billion monthly views. Felipe Neto’s YouTube channel alone has more than 44 million subscribers.
Taking into account all its channels, on different platforms, Play9 has more than 5 billion monthly views.
This reach translates into the startup’s financial indicators, which went from gross revenue of BRL 22 million in 2020 to a turnover of BRL 67 million in 2021. For this year, the projection is to practically double that figure, to BRL 130 million.
A month ago, Play9 showed that it is willing to invest heavily to break down these borders. The company signed a four-year contract, valid from 2023, with narrator Galvão Bueno, who, in December, will leave Rede Globo, after 41 years.
“Galvão is the synthesis of this idea of breaking the bubbles of the digital and the traditional”, says Leme. “He will do what he has always done, but in another sphere, within what we are calling Galvão Mídia Hub. The plan is for him to also be a protagonist in his next cycle in digital.”
At the service of Galvão and company, Play9 has an operation distributed in four business units and a team of approximately 220 professionals.
The first is Network, which takes care of the creation and planning of partner channels on multiple platforms. Called Talents, the second arm works as an agency that connects these content creators to brands and advertisers.
Contracts can involve career agency and vary according to influencers’ aspirations. Startup compensation includes from percentages of 15% to 30% of earnings to revenue sharing, according to the project. “While the Network takes care of the audience, Talents takes care of the image”, explains Leme.
The third unit is Action, which was created to produce content for influencers. And that today, with an average of 300 videos per month, it also signs campaigns for advertisers like Seara and General Motors.
Likewise, Play9 is responsible, for example, for the YouTube channels of companies such as Americanas, the brand Reserva and the Amazon Prime Video service, by Amazon.
The fourth area is On Demand, which creates and takes care of proprietary and special projects. Among them, the Black Friday Show, held since the first year of Play9, in the format of live commerce and which has all its shares purchased by Americanas.
“This model is a response to new consumer behaviors, who navigate very easily between different windows and screens”, says Pedro Curi, coordinator of the Film and Audiovisual course at ESPM. “In this context, the digital and the traditional need to coexist and collaborate.”
For Curi, this format brings Play9 closer to a large communication group, but brings an advantage to the startup. “While they have responsibilities, they are not the owners of that content, which brings a certain lightness that, a traditional group, will hardly have in this transition.”
More recently, Play9 has added two new components to this formula. The first was 9Blocks, a platform for NFTs, and the second, Mestres da Real, a platform for online courses taught by names in its cast, in partnership with edtech Descomplica.
Play9 jumped from a turnover of BRL 22 million in 2020 to BRL 67 million in 2021
As well as these two fronts, the startup is already sewing another initiative, also with a B2C footprint. The idea is to invest in virtual stores with customized products from each influencer. With launches expected in the coming months, the channels will be developed in partnership with Reserva.
These B2C projects illustrate another recent turn by Play9, which formed a board, composed of four new partners: Marco Fishben, CEO of Descomplica; Clecio Guaranys, founder and former CEO of Bemobi; Camila Farani, shark tank investor and CEO of G2 Capital; and Rony Meisler, CEO of the Reserve.
Meisler’s arrival on this board came on the heels of an investment, of undisclosed value, by ZZ Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of Arezzo&Co, the group that owns the Reserve. The other three partners also made contributions in exchange for a small, undisclosed slice of the company, financed, until then, with their own cash.
“Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will, in fact, seek a round of investments”, says Leme. “We have other big projects on our radar and we won’t touch them risking the company’s cash.”
While planning this next step, the founding trio has clearly defined the role that each one plays in the operation. B2C betting is under Freire’s purview. In addition to being CEO, Leme looks more from the perspective of the B2B fronts, from his years as an executive at Globo.
Felipe Neto, in turn, is the startup’s Chief Visionary Officer. In his position, the result of an internal joke, he anticipates digital scenarios and trends. And for that, he uses artificial intelligence resources and his own perception of what is happening in three markets: the United States, Israel and Japan.
“Felipe has already made many changes in his career, which, in itself, shows his genius”, says Leme. “But he also listens to me a lot, like an older brother. We are complementary. He brings the extraordinary strength of digital and, I, a creative and disruptive intention, but under the bias of a big company.”