Mainstream tries to get a grip on Vice

Controversial and sometimes verging on obscene, Vice Media is also the hottest thing in an industry hungry for content

Vice Media, the bad boys of content, are being courted by the biggest moguls in the business. But could mainstream media companies such as Time Warner and Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox find them too hot to handle?

Fast-growing Vice Media has a strong and loyal following among 18- to 35-year-olds, the so-called Generation Y hipsters, due to its controversial programming that appeals to those disenchanted with "established media".

Some of the topics covered by Vice Media's reports, videos and programmes simply cannot be mentioned in a family newspaper, and its website has a section entitled NSFW – not safe for work.

But Vice has become so successful – the company's founder and chief executive Shane Smith says it hopes to reach $1bn (£600m) of revenue in the next 18 months – that Time Warner feels it has to get into bed with the Brooklyn-based irreverent upstart.

Vice already has a news show on Time Warner's HBO channel and it has now emerged that Time Warner is in talks to take a big stake in Vice that would value the relative newcomer at between $2bn and $3bn. Time Warner also owns CNN, which Vice has criticised in the past.

Mr Murdoch's 21st Century Fox bought a 5 per cent stake in Vice last year for roughly $70m and Murdoch's son James sits on the Vice board.

Other shareholders include Sir Martin Sorrell's advertising and marketing giant WPP; Tom Freston, the former chief executive of Viacom; and Raine, an investment bank that has the backing of big investors in entertainment and technology.

No deal has yet been done with Time Warner, and it remains to be seen whether a bidding war for Vice breaks out or whether Mr Murdoch is content with his smaller shareholding or will even sell at a handsome profit.

While Vice's money-making potential is patently clear to analysts, one warned that a deal with Vice did not come without its risks.

Rebecca Lieb, a media analyst at the Altimeter Group, warned that Vice "needs to be held at arm's length" by any mainstream media company "because of the sex, drugs, rock'n'roll bad boy appeal of the content".

Ms Lieb said some of Vice's content "appeals to the baser instincts" of 18- to 35-year-old males.

Ms Lieb said such an arm's-length relationship could work for both sides – because Vice could continue to make the controversial content that "it does so well" free from corporate pressures, and the likes of Time Warner and 21st Century Fox would not alienate advertisers with "family values".

Among reports on Vice's website yesterday were : "Babes and Dated Machine Guns at the Black Sea Defense Convention", "Canadian Intelligence Has Opted Not to Start a Bullshit Twitter Account Like the CIA's" and "Things Men Have Said To My Face After Seeing My Naked Body".

Analysts agreed that whatever one's opinion of Vice's material, it did it well and had a big appeal to its target demographic.

Shane Smith is no doubt why his company has been successful. He said on the Charlie Rose TV show that Generation Y felt disenfranchised and that "we are the voice of that anger".

He said that while mainstream media embedded with the US Marines, Vice embedded with the anarchists.

Last month, Mr Smith said on Bloomberg TV: "We are a challenger brand, so we knock on the doors of CNN, of MTV… We have a different viewpoint.

"We are a bit salty… Every media age has a changing of the guard and right now it's Gen Y is the changing of the guard and they have their own language."

When Mr Smith was in talks with Mr Murdoch, he took the 83-year-old billionaire to Vice's headquarters in the hip Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and the two went for a drink in a trendy bar.

The result of that drink was a tweet from Mr Murdoch: "Who's heard of VICE media? Wild, interesting effort to interest millenials who don't read or watch established media. Global success."

Praise indeed.

Another media analyst, Tony Wible of Janney Capital Markets, said Vice had "a really refreshing way of pitching news to consumers without a filter".

He said it was attractive to mainstream companies because of the calibre of its content, its demographic and also the fact that its content was multi-platform at a time when mobile distribution is a major attraction for media companies.

"This is an environment where you want to own content," Mr Wible said.

Mr Smith and his Vice team have been dismissed by some established media commentators as punks and gonzos, and "more jackass than journalism", and the fact Vice makes content that is sponsored by brands has been ridiculed.

Undeterred, Vice has simply grown remarkably fast. It is probably best known for taking the former basketball star Dennis Rodman to North Korea to meet Kim Jong-un.

Vice describes itself as "the world's leading youth media company" specialising in creating, distributing, and monetising original content globally.

It started as a magazine in Montreal, and now has a record label and publishing division.

Now, it seems, it is partnering with some of the biggest players in the mainstream media in a move that some of its supporters have criticised.

"When we first started Vice we wanted people to either love us or hate us," said Mr Smith.

In that ambition, it has certainly succeeded.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power