Is Vice Media about to sell out?
A couple weeks back, rumors swirled that the media conglomerate Time Warner could purchase up to half of the digital media company known for its unique brand of immersive journalism, in a deal valuing it at more than $2 billion. Today, the New York Times (paywall) takes things a step further, reporting that both Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Group (which already owns a 5% stake in Vice) and the Walt Disney Company are also discussing deals with the company. (Vice did not respond immediately to a request for comment, but we will update this post if it does.)
As the brand has grown, Vice’s journalistic stunts and dismissive attitude toward the traditional media have marked it as a spitball-launching bad boy at the back of the classroom. And indeed, its CEO and co-founder Shane Smith has had a lot to say about the very media giants he is now being linked with:
In interview with New York Daily News in March, Smith had some choice words about the company’s flagship news network. “CNN is a disaster. It’s spiraling into s—,” he said adding that “They are trying to young it down, but everything they do is a f—ing disaster. But what’s bad for CNN is good for me.” (Those comments made Jeff Zucker, CNN’s president, furious, the Times report says.)
CNN and Vice actually struck a syndication deal back in 2010. But that hasn’t toned down Smith’s bluster. During a conference with media buyers last month he said: “With the scale that YouTube offers, we’re not going to be the next CNN. We’re going to be 10 times the next CNN”—an echo of sentiments he expressed to the BBC earlier this year.
21st Century Fox
While Smith might be dismissive of CNN, he has never been as hostile toward Fox News, even though that network’s older, right-leaning audience couldn’t be further from Vice’s hipster/millennial demographic.
In an interview with the Financial Times in 2012, Smith avoided direct criticism of Fox, and praised Murdoch himself:
“Rupert came out and hung out in the office,” says Smith. “It was funny. We took him to a bar in Williamsburg and we got him drunk on tequila; and then everyone started tweeting and freaking out, blogs saying: ‘Is News Corp buying Vice?’ He’s a sweet old guy. I don’t agree with Roger Ailes and Fox News but you have to give Rupert his due. The guy is a shark.”
Murdoch subsequently tipped $70 million into the business and his second son, James, joined its board. Smith defended the Murdoch investment on Reddit. “Fox has zero input into VICE nor are they interested in any way (sic),” he said. “If you think that 21st Century Fox invested in VICE to take over editorial control then its just beyond silly (sic).”
Smith hasn’t really really said much about Disney, but Vice has done some interesting reporting on the weird subcultures that thrive at the media giant’s theme parks.
For its part, Disney was reportedly also sniffing around Buzzfeed earlier this year. Presumably, like many other companies, it is trying to figure out how to reach millennials. Vice might be a good fit, even if its HBO show, according to the Times, is mainly watched by old people.