Unicorns 65/229 – Vice Media
Founders: Suroosh Alvi, Shane Smith
Key people: Shane Smith (Co-Founder & CEO), Suroosh Alvi (Co-Founder), Ben Dietz (Director of Business Development), Eddy Morretti (Executive Producer), Mark Adams (SVP and Head of Innovation) and Ricki Askin (Head of Music Licensing & Archival)
Vice Media is engaged in print, event, music, online, television, and feature film business activities in the United States and internationally. It publishes a magazine that covers information in various subjects such as sex, drugs, music, fashion, photos, travel, sports, technology, food, not safe for work, and conflicts.
The company also produces and licenses its content for mobile, TV, film, and magazine companies; and publishes videos across various content categories for the web. In addition, it offers magazine subscriptions, books, and DVDs through its online store.
Vice Media was founded in 1994 and is based in Brooklyn, New York.
Founding and early years (1994–2005)
VICE Media founders Shane Smith, Suroosh Alvi, and Gavin McInnes launched the magazine Voice of Montreal in October 1994 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada with government funding to cover music, trends and drug culture not covered in print.
They changed the name to VICE in 1996, and as the magazine became increasingly popular, the company found it difficult to scale their operations while based in Canada. After being acquired in 1999 and moving to New York City , the co-founders bought VICE back and moved to new offices in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2001. The magazine continued to gain attention and readership due to its content, commentary, and contributions from the likes of Terry Richardson, Ryan McGinley, and others. The magazine then rapidly expanded internationally, with Andrew Creighton and Andy Capper co-founding the UK division of VICE. The magazine then expanded further into five continents.
Co-founder Gavin McInnes left VICE Media due to “creative differences” with the company, and founded the website streetcarnage.com. He later co-founded Rooster, an advertising agency, where he has since been terminated after publishing his controversial opinions on transgender issues.
Digital expansion (2006–2011)
In 2006, on the advice of creative director Spike Jonze, VICE began expanding into digital video, launching new video service VBS.tv as a joint venture with MTV Networks. VBS gained a fan base with shows like The VICE Guide To Travel, Epicly Later’d, and Toxic. The documentaries on the channel featured unusual subjects, and were hosted by young people working at VICE Media, often the founders themselves.
In 2007, VICE Media began aggressively expanding its digital video operation, launching new channels, such as Motherboard (tech), Noisey (music), and The Creators Project, an arts/technology site founded in partnership with Intel. VICE Media would later launch sites around Electronic music culture (Thump), global news (VICE News), food (Munchies) and sports (VICE Sports). Additionally, VICE Media launched Virtue Worldwide, a creative services agency, to expand their capabilities for work around their platforms.
Ongoing expansion (2012–present)
In 2012, VICE Media continued to expand its coverage focused around news and current events.
In mid-August 2013, Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox invested US$70 million in VICE Media, resulting in a 5 percent stake. Following the announcement, Smith explained, “We have set ourselves up to build a global platform but we have maintained control.”
In 2013 VICE Media premiered a new 30-minute news program for HBO titled VICE, executive produced by Bill Maher. In 2014, the second season of the show won a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series or Special in the 66th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards.
In 2014, VICE Media launched its news channel, VICE News, which almost immediately gained global attention for its coverage of protests and conflict in Ukraine and Venezuela. As of October 2014, the leader of BBC’s Newsdesk claimed the organization was “playing catch-up” to VICE News.
VICE Media has routinely advocated for their “immersionist” brand of journalism in the pursuit of more authentic and interesting stories. Their founders and editors have regularly garnered controversy from the likes of the New York Times’ David Carr, who bristled in an exchange with Shane Smith in the 2011 documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times. In a 2014 Time column, Carr said that VICE had since grown into a strong news entity. In August 2014, Carr published a New York Times column further reversing his earlier criticism of VICE, saying, “Being the crusty old-media scold felt good at the time, but recent events suggest that VICE is deadly serious about doing real news that people, yes, even young people, will actually watch.”
On July 2, 2014, VICE Media announced that it would be relocating into a warehouse space in Williamsburg formerly occupied by music venues 285 Kent, Death by Audio, and Glasslands. VICE spent US$20 million to renovate the 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m2) building as part of an eight-year lease, facilitating the establishment of new production facilities with full broadcast capabilities, and received an offer of US$6.5 million in tax credits from New York state’s Empire State Development.
In June 2014, it was reported that Time Warner was negotiating to acquire a minority stake in VICE Media; among the company’s plans were to give VICE Media control over the programming of HLN—a spin-off network of CNN which had recently struggled in its attempts to re-focus itself as a younger-skewing, social media-oriented news service. However, the deal fell through as the companies were unable to agree on a proper valuation, and VICE Media chose to partner with A&E Networks for a 10% minority stake. A&E’s co-owner Disney made a second investment of $200 million.
On October 30, 2014, VICE Media announced a CDN$100 million joint venture with Rogers Communications that to facilitate the construction of production facilities in Toronto, as well as the introduction of a VICE-branded television network and digital properties in Canada in 2015. Rogers CEO Guy Laurence described the proposed studio as “a powerhouse for Canadian digital content focused on 18- to 34-year-olds” that will be “exciting” and provocative.” The content of the partnership will be aimed primarily toward digital platforms.
In November 2014, VICE Media announced that Alyssa Mastromonaco, who formerly worked in the Obama administration, would come on board as the company’s chief operating officer in January 2015, and that James Schwab, who had previously advised VICE and Dreamworks on media deals, would be joining as Co-President.
On March 26, 2015, HBO announced it would renew its contract to broadcast the weekly VICE documentary series for four years, while expanding the annual broadcast schedule from 14 to nearly 30 episodes.
In November 2015, VICE and A&E Networks announced Viceland, a then-upcoming cable network that would feature VICE-produced content. In March 2016, VICE acquired controlling stake in UK television and film production company Pulse Films.
VICE partnered with HBO again to launch nightly news program VICE News Tonight, beginning on October 10, 2016.
On March 22, 2017, VICE Media finalized a deal with French digital media studio Blackpills for the creation of a lineup of original short-form programming, set to premiere on VICE’s digital video hub, video.vice.com. Blackpills is set to enlist filmmakers including Luc Besson, Bryan Singer, and Zoe Cassavetes in the creative effort. VICE’s London subsidiary Pulse Films will also contribute original content that will air on video.vice.com.
On March 14, 2017, VICE announced an expanded original programming deal with Snap Inc. The new deal builds on VICE’s previous deal to serve as a 2015 global launch partner on the Snapchat Discover platform. The first program planned under the new deal is Hungry Hearts with Action Bronson, starring the titular rapper.
Later in March 2017, Shane Smith stated that Vice Media would enter the Indian market in the second half of 2017 through a partnership with the Times Group. The company intends to operate a TV network with the Times Group, mobile and online platforms, an OTT platform, and print media. Smith also revealed that the company had “held India back as a launch partner because it’s so important to get it right. We didn’t just want to come in, set up a studio and go. We wanted to have a plan, make sure we did it correctly.”