Binance, led by the world’s richest crypto billionaire, is taking a $200 million stake in Forbes

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Zhao Changpeng, founder and chief executive officer of Binance, speaks during an interview in Singapore, on Nov. 19, 2021.

Wei Leng Tay | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Binance, the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, is making a $200 million strategic investment in Forbes, the 104-year old magazine and digital publisher, CNBC has learned.

The funds will help Forbes execute on its plan to merge with a publicly-traded special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, in the first quarter, according to people with knowledge of the deal.

Investors have grown skeptical of SPAC deals generally, and media deals in particular, in recent months amid the broader stock market retrenchment. Binance will replace half of the $400 million in commitments from institutional investors announced by Forbes in August, said the people, who declined to be identified before the transaction is announced.

That will make Binance one of the top two biggest owners of Forbes, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “FRBS,” the people said. The crypto company will also get two directors out of nine total board seats, they said.

The move shows the increasing real-world influence of the crypto sector, which has seen surging valuations and minted a new class of billionaires amid global interest in digital assets. While crypto companies have gone public, affixed their names to sports arenas and flooded airwaves with celebrity endorsements, this is the sector’s first big investment in a traditional U.S. media property.

Forbes was founded more than a century ago by the grandfather of editor-in-chief and two-time presidential candidate Steve Forbes. In 2014, Forbes sold a 95% stake to Hong Kong-based Integrated Whale Media at a valuation of $475 million.

Known for its flagship magazine and a digital publishing model that relies on contributors, Forbes has worked to diversify its revenue with licensing deals and ecommerce and direct-to-consumer efforts. The company says it reaches 150 million people through its content and events.

Forbes is also known for its annual rankings of the world’s richest business tycoons.

It’s a category that Binance founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao joined recently: Last month, the net worth of Zhao, who prefers to go by “CZ,” was pegged at $96 billion by Bloomberg News. The figure, a conservative estimate that excludes his personal crypto holdings, makes him easily the industry’s richest entrepreneur.

The investment by Binance, founded barely five years ago, is an indication Zhao that believes content generation will be a growth area for Web 3.0 development. The term refers to a more decentralized version of the internet that uses the blockchain, which also underpins cryptocurrencies and nonfungible tokens, or NFTs.

“This is the first step into a marketplace that has really high potential when it comes to adoption of Web 3.0 based tools,” said a person with knowledge of Binance’s strategy. “Our industry has seen a ton of growth and we think you’d have to be a fool to not position yourself in those sectors that are ripe for infrastructure investment.”

The company approached Forbes, which had been weighing options including an outright sale, after identifying three media and content platforms for potential investment, said the people.

Crypto insiders say they expect a deluge of deals this year as companies deploy the enormous sums of money raised in recent fundraising rounds.