Vice Media Inc. has teamed up with Rogers Communications Inc. to create a Canadian studio and TV channel. The $100 million joint venture will include a Vice Canada studio based in Toronto, producing a news channel that will sync with mobile and online content.
Vice has been working its way into young adults’ minds since its inception in Montreal in 1994. Starting out as a monthly magazine, it has expanded internationally, now operating in over 30 countries and valued at $2.5 billion. Rogers has made a smart move buying into an organization with the main purpose of engaging the 18- to 34-year-old demographic—one that will grow to half of the Canadian population in less than a decade, according to Rogers CEO Guy Laurence.
Vice CEO Shane Smith has said that he wants to “build the next CNN, the next ESPN.” To some, this may seem a little confusing coming from a news organization that still talks “half the time about rare denim and sneakers.” Last year, Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan called Vice out on selling their counterculture manifesto to the world’s mainstream corporations, all from the starting place of “a humble magazine about doing heroin and having sex (on heroin).” With moves like this partnership with Rogers, it seems they are far-gone from their humble beginnings as an indie magazine made to combat conventional news.
It’s true, Vice’s content is sleazy at times. From their food offshoot Munchies featuring weed edibles as a new culinary art, to news pieces on drugs, sex, violence and random viral videos—it’s easy to castoff Vice as a news source fringing on the line between journalism and sensationalism. Their audience is often divided from those who love video series like “People Who Just Had Sex” (where they interview couples before and after they’ve had sex) to those who would rather get the harder-hitting journalistic pieces like their recent critique on rehab clinics in Southern California.
Yet we can look at the success of BuzzFeed as a prime example of this kind of journalism working and thriving online. Sure the site may attract young audiences with snappy, easy-to-read quizzes, listicles and photo series, but readers can also find well-written investigative features.
Vice’s online description states the magazine is an “ever-expanding galaxy of immersive, investigative, uncomfortable and occasionally uncouth journalism.” The organization is a threat to more traditional news outlets by throwing out the idea that the journalist isn’t a character in the story. Vice’s voice is loud and clear in its content, particularly in the seedier pieces. But for every survey about how often men fake orgasms, there’s a piece of tenacious reporting, such as the documentaries on North Korea and bridal kidnappings in Kyrgyzstan and And it’s not like these journalistic pieces are being ignored—both videos have a combined total of more than six million views.
This partnership with Rogers reflects the changing landscape of Canadian media, where Canadians are actively seeking innovative media outlets, even if they have to pay a membership fee. We wrote about an example of this last month with Ricochet, the new independent bilingual news site that got its start from crowdfunding and aims to offer a counter to the large, all-encompassing news groups like CBC or the Globe and Mail.
Vice got its start as being the cool new kid on the block, the one to take news in a direction that is engaging for youth wanting their news to reflect who they are and what they are passionate about. But when these independent sites gain traction, it’s inevitable that some day they may become mainstream. It’s the same with music, there is always a fight to avoid selling out, keeping the original fans happy but at the same time continuing to grow and prosper. As the journalism world keeps changing, we must remember to keep the focus on quality over capital, and this all stems from leadership. Vice already has an audience, now it is up Smith and management to keep their audience engaged with stories of high journalistic quality. Gen Y likes to learn too, you know.
Thanks to The Stream Team for the featured image.