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Complex Logo
Dec 2016/Jan 2017 Issue

Complex is a multifaceted media platform based out of New York City that provides content on youth culture. Complex reports on fashion, pop culture, music, sports, sneakers and, most recently, politics, usually doing so through a niche cultural lens that favors the tastes of streetwear and hip-hop. It was founded in 2002 by fashion designer Mark Eckō. Initially, it launched as a bi-monthly magazine aimed at young males (ages 16-29), but quickly moved to the fast-developing digital field and after the Dec 2016/Jan 2017 issue, featuring Pusha T and Sofia Richie on the cover, ceased its print operation.[1][2] Now, Complex reaches over 90 million unique users per month across all of its different properties online, which include owned-and-operated staples such as video series Complex News and music site Pigeons and Planes.[3]


Complex was founded in 2002 by Mark Eckō , the head of urban fashion house Ecko Unltd., and its name evolved from a reference to the brand's website. According to Complex, "In the early aughts Ecko Unltd merchandise had tags that said ecko.complex. The idea was to evoke images of an "Ecko Complex" as in the Ecko Place, Ecko Factory, or Ecko Zone."[4] The magazine's founders strove to combine Eckō's streetwear and hip-hop attitude with the formatting of Japanese men's magazines that provide straight-forward consumer guides, and to achieve this vision, they created a magazine that printed in two sections: one traditional, and the other a shopping guide.

In September, 2006, Complex enlisted Noah Callahan-Bever as its editor-in-chief, promoting the former deputy editor to replace Richard Martin. Before attaining the post, Callahan-Bever served as editor in chief of Mass Appeal, contributed as a writer for MTV News, and acted as editor-in-chief at Vibe magazine.[5] [6] Rich Antoniello, then a publisher at Complex, announced the appointment of Callahan-Bever in a statement, saying: "[Callahan-Bever] has been a major force behind the magazine’s growth and continued momentum. He is an excellent leader and an outstanding journalist who has exactly what it takes to advance the magazine to new heights.”[7]

On April 18, 2016, Verizon and Hearst agreed to jointly acquire Complex Media, that would make it a subsidiary of Verizon Hearst Media Partners. CEO and Co-founder, Rich Antoniello, was granted continued leadership over the company under the contract. The venture aims to create new multiplatform digital video channels targeting the mobile millennial audience. Brian Angiolet, Verizon's senior VP of consumer product and marketing, stated their strategy in the announcement of the deal: "The decision to acquire Complex is certainly a continuation of our media strategy, which is focused on disruption that is occurring in digital media and content distribution, and involves building a portfolio of the emerging digital brands of the future for the millenial and Gen-Z audience." With this acquisition, Complex will develop premium video content for distribution across Verizon digital platforms, including and the free Go90 service. [8]

Digital Expansion & Complex Media Network

In 2006, with the magazine earning just 5% of the company's annual revenue, Complex began pivoting away from print and focusing more attentively on emphasizing its digital presence. The online publishing sphere was still vastly underdeveloped, with linking strategies reigning supreme and exclusive publisher relationships going largely un-marketed. So, as Complex Media CEO Rich Antoniello said, the brand began aiming to become, "the best of both worlds," and to "eliminate all the problems." Doing so meant bundling up "vertical, nontraditional small publishers that have custom followers that are consistent with brands in the magazine — sneaker, music, style, video gaming" to be included in their online empire, thus expanding their online reach and, in turn, that of their advertisers.[9]

Complex Media Network launched in 2007 as a way to better organize the company's expanding digital network, and to help market its affordances to potential advertisers more efficiently. At its launch, Complex raised $12 million through Austin Ventures and Accel Partners, and also solidified an association with websites such as and through two- and four-year contracts with 100 percent exclusivity.[10]

“We’re more of a collective of sites," said by-then appointed Complex Media CEO Rich Antoniello, going on to call all Complex-affiliated properties "as close to owned and operated as possible." Describing the commercial value of such a bundle, Antoniello explains: “Instead of having a philosophy of, here are some sites your ad might appear on, we’re able to say, here’s where they will be and with this audience: this is exactly where your ads will run.” Such pointed language eases conversation with Complex Media's major partners like Coors, AT&T, Ford, McDonald's, Nike, Adidas and Apple.[11]

Complex Web Properties

In 2010, Complex acquired Pigeons and Planes, an influential music blog that reports on indie music and hip-hop. "Being a part of the [Complex] network should only help to foster growth and new opportunities for P&P," the brand said in their official statement on the re-organization.[12]

In 2012, Complex launched Four Pins, a humorous menswear site edited by Lawrence Schlossman, editor of Fuck Yeah Menswear;"[13] Sneaker Report, a site focused primarily on performance footwear;[14] and First We Feast, a food and dining culture website overseen by Chris Schonberger, the former food editor at Time Out New York.[15]

In 2013, Complex launched its dance music website Do Androids Dance, as well as Green Label, a branded content website presented by Mountain Dew that revolves around music and is overseen by Justin Tejada, who formerly was at Time Inc. According to the New York Times, advertising sales for will are "handled by Complex Media," but their revenue is "shared with PepsiCo Americas Beverages."[16]

Also in 2013, Complex acquired staple sneaker website Sole Collector from its original founder, Steve Mullholand. Sole Collector then attracted in 4.4 million unique visitors a month, and also boasted the world's largest sneaker forum, with more than 385,000 members.[17]

In 2015, Do Androids Dance was merged into Complex, and it no longer exists as a unique web page.[18] In 2016, Four Pins was shut down, though it still exists as satirical Twitter account.[19]


In 2009, Complex raised $12.8 million from Accel Partners and Austin Ventures.[20]

In September 2013, Complex raised another $25 million in a second round of funding from Iconix Brand Group, who own Rocawear, Starter, Eckō Unltd. and Umbro, among other brands.[21]

In April 2016, Complex was acquired by Verizon Communications with total equity funding of $60.53 million. [22]


Complex was named one of the "30 Most Valuable Internet Startups in New York" by Business Insider in 2011.[23] One year later, the value of the company skyrocketed. Complex Media had a valuation of $250 million (more than $100 million higher than the previous year), earning them a spot on Business Insider's list of "Most Valuable Private Companies in The World."[24] Complex has also experienced success at the Digiday Video Awards, taking hardware home in 2014 for the "Best Original Non-Scripted Video Series" and 2015 for "Best Video Destination - Entertainment Complex TV".[25]


Brands have recently shifted focus towards looking for ways to reach consumers through content and experiences on the Web. As a result of the effects of digitization, publishing companies are now creating their own branded content strategy divisions, relieving the reliance on third-party distribution agencies to reach their intended audience. Complex reported that they created an average of 47 pieces of content a month on behalf of major brands, including McDonald's, Gillette, Levi's, Toyota, Adidas, and others. Additionally, in a partnership with Pepsico, they launched, a Mountain Dew branded lifestyle site. is staffed by Complex editorial employees and drives more than double the traffic as[26]

Embedded Value

The embedded values approach in computer ethics was first formulated by Helen Nissenbaum and has since been adopted by many authors in the field to concretely answer questions about the ethicalness of certain technologies. Rather than analyze the morality of the way that something is being used, or study the way that something is being regulated, embedded values scholars concern themselves with the artifacts themselves.[27]

According to Philip Brey, a professor of philosophy of technology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, "The idea of embedded values is best understood as a claim that technological artifacts (and in particular computer systems and software) have built-in tendencies to promote or demote the realization of particular values. Defined in this way, a built-in value is a special sort of built-in consequence."[28][29]

Complex Media Network is itself a unique information technology bearing certain embedded values. In its quick, digital expansion, the company established a formidable presence at a fairly new intersection of sponsorships and journalism, one that was only allowed to be birthed because of its pre-existent reputation for leaning a certain way on all major issues (namely, in constant parallel to hip-hop and youth cultures). The company's subsequent, consistent blurring of the lines between sponsored-content and critical assessment, coupled with its spiderweb-like connection to a wide-array of important digital properties, creates a sort of cultural monopoly wherein Complex is editorially promoting brands as cool all across the internet while simultaneously profiting off of those brands' success by serving their advertisements to potential clients on a hyper-personal level.

Alas, the infrastructure of Complex Media Network itself, as a technology, bears vital embedded values, because every piece of content, sponsored or not, that's posted through the system, regardless of the agent promoting it or his/her intentions, causes tangible affects on millions of people.

Yet, regardless, Complex Media's blurring of the lines between sponsored-content and critical input proved fruitful for both is advertisers, who are now able to micro-target specific demographics with near-measurable impacts, and the company's bottom line, as it's truly created a second-life by establishing a modern, reliable, still-growing revenue stream.


Referenced Wikipedia[30] for general formatting and as a lead-in to many vital alternative sources, which are cited in-context.

  8. Verizon Hearst Acquire Complex Media
  25. 2015 Awards
  26. Complex Brand Partnerships