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NowThis, the news-centric division of new media company Group Nine, had one of the more intriguing showings at during the IAB NewFronts in New York this spring.

Upon announcement of its first-ever Edward R. Murrow award and sponsorship by haircare brand Shea Moisture of the season two of its flagship series Mane, chief content officer Tina Exarhos talks with The Drum on the rise of the show and where the digital publisher is heading in the evolving video and TV space.

Mane: NowThis’ deep-conditioned dive into long-form content

Mane, the first long-form content series by NowThis, steers a bit away from much of the seconds-to-minutes-long content that has brought the outlet its combined 2.6bn views on social platforms. A show that highlights the intersection of culture and hair, it's what Exarhos says was the first idea the company greenlit.

“It just felt like it was the perfect way for NowThis to move into that long-form space,” she says. ”Broadly speaking, as we have been in development over the past a year or more with no longer format shows – longer than our typical social video — the first and most obvious place to lean into for us was into our verticals.”

From those verticals — which include news, entertainment, politics, money and ‘Her’, its channel dedicated specifically to women — Exarhos and team dove into ideas for longer stories that spoke to the structure and familiarity of the channel, but still kept a compelling narrative for a mobile-first audience. “As we think about NowThis Her in particular, which is very, very focused on female empowerment and body positivity quality, it made such perfect sense as one of our first moves into that space, one that was really around like the cultural intersection of beauty and history and women of color and hair.”

Shea Moisture, a sponsor of two season one episodes, expanded its presence with a full sponsorship of season two. The haircare line, which targets women of color and their varied curls, seemed a natural fit for the show.

Exarhos says that while the sponsorship and content may give Mane a vibe that solely targets that community, it’s more of a show that helps bring a microculture of haircare enthusiasts front and center. “I don't want to say that like we're trying to teach people things, she says. “It really is an attempt to bring different types of care and maintenance and different types of people and products all together and like to educate people.”

She adds: “There are so many questions that we're raising in each of these episodes, These great moments where it's like, ‘I have friends from all different walks of life that asked me things about my hair, and this this moment where I can let people know who I am and how my hair really helps define who I am and my identity.’”

In Discovery, a partner and bridge to linear storytelling

In 2016, the then-created Group Nine Media (made up of NowThis, culture blog Thrillist, animal site Dodo, and Seeker, a Discovery-owned outlet) we’re given a $100m investment by Discovery Communications, paving the way for content to cross the social space and onto its linear broadcasts of Discovery, Animal Planet, TLC, and others.

TLC had picked up a new series from the creators at The Dodo called ‘Dodo Heroes’ and premiered it last month, the first of its kind for the nearly three-year-old company. When asked if the success of Mane, or the shareable content from any other NowThis programming would reach audiences who’ve kept their cable boxes, Exarhos says it has been something under consideration.

“That's in our crosshairs,” she says. “Not Mane specifically, but we've had some interesting conversations on the linear side about this show, but also many, many others right now. You can see some natural, you know, you have to kind of a cross the either streaming space or you know, many networks.”

She does consider the partnership between outlets a kind of ‘two-way street’, stating: “there are lots of different conversations going on across group nine right now — The Dodo is probably the best example of that. There are different conversations going on, and it makes great sense, right?

“I think Discovery is looking at us because they know that we've mastered a specific form of storytelling, right? They do stuff in the unscripted space that nobody does nobody better in the business. So looking for opportunities to collaborate like in a two way scenario is probably one of the most exciting things, and it’s really one of the most exciting opportunities around their investment in us at Group Nine.”

Even so, the priority for Exarhos and her content team remains keeping their crown in the social space. “We're developing a lot that I think will fit perfectly in-feed or on Facebook or on Snapchat or on our YouTube channels, and we're thinking and focusing more and more on making sure almost everything we do runs across all of these social platforms, because there are different audiences. And different opportunities for monetization, obviously, across each of them.

“More and more, we're thinking about this development process and what other potential partners and audiences might be off social."

As the mobile and social spaces mature, NowThis looks to keep all eyes on them

On the overall growth of the six-year-old outlet (NowThis was launched in 2012) to its rise to virality and credibility with its first-ever win of the Edward R. Murrow Award in June), Exharos considers this time a 'great moment.'

“From where we started, which was in a super-short-form space," she says, “I think that the audience and technology and the platforms have all grown up together and you know, what once was the capacity for 30 seconds on scrolling through your phone has turned into a very different experience and it's become the primary, place where people are consuming longer form content now.”

For the Group Nine network as a whole, this means newly-minted brand partnerships with Grey Goose for a content series with Jamie Foxx, called 'Off Script' for its Thrillist brand, the launch of a nationwide science fair with Seeker. It also means strengthened bonds with platforms like Facebook for new programming and the formal launch of an AI tool called GIA, that tailors ideal programming and content to platform, and had recently opened up the new offering for immersive brand partnerships.

She adds: “Nobody could have envisioned that a couple years ago. So, we were perfectly positioned to move into that longer-form space because I think the audiences trust us. It's just a great moment for us right now."