Given how hard News Corp is working to clean up its reputation after allegations of various forms of criminality, it seems a little reckless of Rupert Murdoch to be jumping into bed with a media company called Vice.
And for a youngish brand that has built its own name by combining street smarts with an ability to report serious global stories in a quirky and youth-friendly fashion, an alliance with the world’s most famous traditional media baron appears like marketing madness.
But £45m is no small amount of money to a business that started out as a publicly-funded community magazine in Montreal - and Vice Media has grown by striking up partnerships with bigger organisations, ranging from broadcaster HBO to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which is shown online by Vice and on television by Murdoch’s Fox network.
I imagine that Vice will be hoping that the publicity surrounding News Corp’s purchase of a 5 per cent shareholding will go unnoticed by most of its audience. Vice, which is predominantly a video brand these days but still produces its print magazine in 34 countries, still depends on its underground credibility even if it is now a large international player. The company is expanding into China, something that will also have impressed a Sinophile like Murdoch.
As for Rupert, he has nothing to lose here. The mogul first expressed interest in Vice Media on his Twitter account last October but denied a planned buy-up by saying – quite reasonably – that corporate backing was the “last thing they need”. But apparently the price was right for Vice. For News Corp, the outlay was mere pocket change for a business with annual revenues of $33bn – especially one that splashed $580m on MySpace way back in 2005.
I hope that the Vice chief executive Shane Smith, along with the Brits on his top team such as Tyneside-born president Andrew Creighton and its Global Editor Andy Capper, know what they’re doing. Vice has until now been a great success story and has shown the way in engaging in current affairs a generation that is supposedly less interested in the news.
Time will tell whether the Vice brand is damaged by being connected to a reactionary network like Fox News, or whether the business somehow benefits from access to the expertise and resources of the Murdoch empire.
Vice, which bought its vice.com domain name from a pornographer, has never sought the virginal reputation of a brand like Innocent – which presented itself as a clean and healthy alternative in the food and drinks market. But when I heard about Vice’s deal with Rupert Murdoch, it was the smoothie brand with the halo that instantly came to mind – and specifically when Innocent paired up with McDonald’s and Coca Cola.Reuse content