Why Did Lonely Planet Purchase Teton Gravity Research?
After Lonely Planet's new owner hired a 25-year-old neophyte to helm the famed but flailing guidebooks brand, it was anyone’s guess as to which direction it would go. But new clues to the company's future may be found in this startling acquisition.
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Last January, I spent a week in New Zealand and a few days in Tennessee with the then twenty-five year-old CEO of Lonely Planet, Daniel Houghton. He was new to the job—hell, he was a wedding photographer before, so he was new to the entire industry—and still adjusting to the many demands of saving the sinking guidebook company. But he took everything in his long stride: the mass firings, the skepticism about his age and experience, even the premature obituaries and elegies for the legendary company itself.
Now, one year after his controversial hiring, there’s more to judge the kid mogul on. He’s made bold and expensive moves—the purchase of Budget Travel magazine for a reported $2.4 million, expansion into food video content with PlanetFood—and, though he wouldn’t comment on the record about it, anonymous sources say that LP is back in the black.
Houghton’s latest interesting move, announced Wednesday, is the purchase of a major stake in Teton Gravity Research, the action sports media company based in Jackson, Wyoming, best known for its award-winning ski porn. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but TGR founders Steve and Todd Jones will reportedly maintain their ownership interest. Last time we spoke, Houghton made it clear he wanted video to be part of the new Lonely Planet formula. Now, this purchase marks the biggest manifestation of that to date.
While flying to TGR headquarters yesterday for some celebratory skiing and meetings with company brass, Houghton emailed me about the deal, what it means for LP and whether or not we’ll see him hucking cliffs on film anytime soon.
OUTSIDE: How did the deal come about?
HOUGHTON: We’ve been in discussions for some time. As Lonely Planet continues to expand our focus on video, it was a natural next step. As a multimedia company, we’re focusing on many forms of travel content: guidebooks, magazines, lonelyplanet.com. And video is a facet of our digital ecosystem that we see the potential to expand and develop. Working with TGR gives us the opportunity to share our skills and experience. It’s a great continuation of travel and lifestyle content. Our collaboration will fuel the success of both brands.
What can LP fans expect?
It’s really early days, so I’m afraid there aren’t many specifics we can share just yet. But the companies will continue to operate independently and work together to find strategic opportunities in the future.
When did you first become aware of Teton Gravity Research?
I’ve been following their work for many years. What TGR have done in the adventure sports category with video is outstanding. That, coupled with the success of their website and their dedicated online community, has made them an industry leader. It wasn’t hard to notice them.
What most impresses you about TGR as a brand?
TGR is a great example of a brand that’s passionate about its subject and is producing high quality, inspirational content for its expanding audience. TGR’s love for what they do is key in their success and it’s so clear in their work. It’s exciting to work with a brand that shares the same enthusiasm and drive for content creation that Lonely Planet has thrived on for over forty years. I’m really excited about how innovative TGR is with video, especially: it’s an area of development for Lonely Planet.
You’re on your way to Jackson right now. Favorite runs?
The last time I skied Jackson I was probably ten. It’s hard to remember.
What’s your favorite place to ski then?
I grew up skiing Sun Valley and Breckenridge a lot. My parents met on a ski racing team, so it’s always been our family’s activity. I’m a huge fan of Telluride, though—specifically a black run called The Plunge.
How good a skier are you, really?
I pale in comparison to anything you’ll ever see in a TGR video, but I did hit 78-miles per hour last year in Utah. I like speed. When I was seventeen or eighteen I went to Europe and skied a terrain park for the first time and hit some bigger jumps, but it always terrified me. I try to be careful now. I’ve broken a lot of bones in my life that took a long time to recover from, so I try to avoid injury these days.
Will we see you in a TGR film in the future?
Ha! If you do, call me and tell me to stop, something’s wrong. I’d be in way over my head.