Photo by Jeff Kravitz / Getty Images for Triller
Over the weekend, a curious group of celebrities descended on Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium for an equally curious event. The main draw was a series of boxing matches, culminating in a showdown between Jake Paul and retired MMA fighter Ben Askren. (Paul won, somehow.) The commentators, for the most part, didn’t really know anything about boxing, but they were famous: Snoop Dogg, Mario Lopez, Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, and supermodel Taylor Hill called the fights. Justin Bieber, The Black Keys, Doja Cat, Saweetie, Diplo, Major Lazer, and Snoop Dogg’s new supergroup Mt. Westmore (which includes Ice Cube, Too $hort, and E-40) all performed, playing short sets between each bout. At one point, Pete Davidson showed up and reportedly asked Jake Paul about a sexual assault allegation he’s facing, a moment that was, unsettlingly, muted during the broadcast. Then he called Paul a “piece of shit” on camera. The day-long spectacle was the debut of “Triller Fight Club,” a new enterprise that’s part pro-boxing league, part famous-people-fighting-each-other league, part music festival, and entirely bizarre. Naturally, you might have some questions about this thing. We’re here to answer them.
Where did it come from?In 2015, two musicians launched an app called Triller, which gave users an easy way to make music videos using artificial intelligence software, according to the Los Angeles Times. Over the next few years, they expanded the app into a place where you could make and edit any kind of video, share it with other users, and accrue likes, shares, and followers in the process. Basically, it wound up becoming really similar to TikTok, which is a direct competitor. In 2019, Triller was acquired by Proxima Media, an investment company run by Ryan Kavanaugh and Bobby Sarnevesht. (More on them later). They raised more than $100 million, partially through celebrity investors—including the Weeknd, Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, Marshmello, 21 Savage, Migos, French Montana, Wiz Khalifa, YG, SAINt JHN, Ne-Yo, and Swae Lee—and started building what they call the “Triller Network,” a media and tech conglomerate. They bought Verzuz, Timbaland and Swizz Beats’ company that brings big-name artists together for live-streamed rap battles. They launched “TrillerTV,” a pseudo television network on the Triller app that will feature shows from Jennifer Lopez, 2 Chainz, DJ Khaled, and the D’Amelios, among other celebrities. They built an NFT marketplace, because, well, why not? After teaming up with Mike Tyson for his first boxing match in 15 years—a pay-per-view event that reportedly generated more than $80 million in revenue—they launched Triller Fight Club. Snoop Dogg, who commentated during Tyson’s match, signed on as the host and announcer. Saturday’s event was Triller Fight Club’s debut.
How do you actually watch the fights?You can purchase them on pay-per-view through most cable and satellite TV providers, including Xfinity, Optimum, and DirecTV. You can also stream them via FITE TV, which Triller recently acquired, and directly through Triller Fight Club’s website. You can technically go to these fights in person, but you probably never will. Triller releases just 100 tickets to each event, seemingly at random.
How does Triller make money?Triller Fight Club is, apparently, a big earner. According to Rolling Stone, more than 1 million people paid $50 each to stream Saturday’s event via pay-per-view. Additionally, according to a company press release, Triller has secured a number of brand deals, including with Pepsi, McDonalds, Weedmaps, DraftKings, and L'Oreal. Kavanaugh told AdAge his company has struck 35 such deals, and had “literally hundreds” in negotiations. In October, Reuters reported that Triller was looking to go public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), but as of now, that still hasn’t happened.
Why are so many A-list celebrities involved?According to Rolling Stone, Snoop Dogg has had a big hand in recruiting stars to Triller, whether as investors or as talent. Many serve in both roles, as Los Angeles Magazine notes. Plus, obviously, the boxers and performers involved with Triller Fight Club get paid. Jake Paul made at least $690,000 from the purse for Saturday’s fight, and Askren, his opponent, made at least $500,000.Triller has also made a big push to lure influencers away from TikTok and recruit them to its own app. As the New York Times reports, they convinced the Sway Boys, a group of TikTok influencers, to join Triller by offering them a stake in the company. Triller named one of them, Josh Richards, its chief strategy officer. He was 18 at the time. Two others were brought onto the company as “advisors with equity,” according to the Times. Along with ownership stakes, Triller rewards influencers who join its ranks with perks. It rents them mansions, leases them cars, and covers the costs of “housekeeping, weekly Instacart orders, ground transportation, high speed Wi-Fi, and production equipment like ring lights,” according to the Times.
I’ve heard Triller is “controversial.” Why is that?For one, the company has thrown a lot of support behind Jake Paul, who was recently accused of sexual assault by influencer Justine Paradise. Paul has denied the allegation, and Triller hasn’t commented on it.
Additionally, Triller’s owners, Kavanaugh and Sarnevesht, have drawn heat related to their previous business dealings. Before he got involved with Triller, Kavanaugh was the CEO of Relativity Media, a Hollywood film financing company that declared bankruptcy twice. In 2018, former Relativity executive Adam Fields sued Kavanaugh, accusing him of breach of contract and fraud. Per the Wall Street Journal:
“An arbitrator in the litigation found that Mr. Kavanaugh had fabricated a human-resources document accusing Mr. Fields of ‘egregious misconduct,’ including sexual harassment, according to court documents from Relativity’s bankruptcy filing. An attorney for Mr. Kavanaugh called the allegation ‘complete nonsense.’… An arbitrator awarded Mr. Fields, the prevailing party in the litigation, $8.4 million in damages but said he had not proven his claims against Mr. Kavanaugh, including for fraud, court records show.”
For his part, Sarnevesht, who previously co-founded several medical centers in San Francisco, was hit by a lawsuit alleging the centers “overcharged patients millions of dollars,” the Journal reports. The plaintiffs were ultimately awarded $37.4 million, though Sarnevesht and his co-defendants never admitted any wrongdoing, according to the Journal.Triller has a mixed reputation in the music industry, which it works with regularly to license songs used on the company’s app. Universal Music Group accused Triller of withholding royalty payments to its artists, and has since pulled its music from the app, the LA Times reports. Additionally, David Israelite, the president and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association, told the LA Times triller hasn’t secured licenses with various music publishers whose songs appear on the platform, alleging that some songwriters may be missing out on royalties they should be receiving from Triller.
Lastly, Triller came under fire for planning a massive party in L.A. in November of 2020, when COVID-19 was still spreading at a rate of thousands of cases per day in the city, the LA Times reports. Triller later pulled out of the event.
When are the famous people going to fight again?Triller Fight Club aims to put on five to eight events per year, ESPN reports. It has at least two planned for the rest of 2021, which will feature Diplo boxing somebody, comeback matches from retired world champions Oscar De La Hoya and Evander Holyfield, a number of musical performances, and a cast of celebrity announcers. The next show is slated for June 5. Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.