CJ Fahey discussed VICELAND, as part of Polis’ Media and Communication in Action series.
Why did VICE start a TV channel?
VICE Media is not your parents’ media company. In fact, as an originally online, youth-driven media company, they revel in their differences when compared to traditional news media. They are known for reporting on hard-hitting news features and investigations, ranging from ISIS to the war in eastern Ukraine, while at other times exploring alternative cultures around the world, such as London’s polyamorous unicorn movement. The diversity of their content, combined with a high standard of filmmaking that is produced, directed, and reported on by millennials, has given VICE a style all their own.
In February 2016, VICE launched their brand new international television channel VICELAND, playing twenty-four hours a day content in the U.S. and Canada. Within just one year of debuting, VICELAND has already expanded to over 100 million TV households in 12 countries although so far the estimates of actual viewers has been more niche than mass.
Many wonder why an already successful digital media company would turn to the rather traditional medium of television, especially when traditional media companies at the moment are vying to get ahold of online audiences. Indeed, in an age where most media organizations are trying to go digital, VICE Media has done the opposite, pivoting to TV.
Digital Killed the TV Star…. Or Not Quite?
Television has long been the predominant medium of choice for news consumption, but it has recently been rivaled by the rise of digital media and online news. According to the Pew Research Center, “The gap between the share of Americans who get news online and those who do so on television is narrowing,” citing research from a survey they conducted on how American adults get their news. The survey found a seven-percentage point dip in television news consumption, from 57% of US adults in 2016, to 50% in 2017, which was juxtaposed with a five percent increase in online news consumption, up from 38% in 2016 to 43% in 2017, leaving just a seven-point gap between online and television news consumption.
But where others see an old dog, VICE sees new tricks. Fahey told the LSE audience that: “This is a dilemma we are facing, clearly there are challenges in the television industry, people are watching content in many different ways, but at the same time they are still watching a lot of TV content…. Eighty percent of U.S. households pay for TV, and in the U.K., it’s somewhere around 50%.”
VICE felt that TV could offer them something they were missing, said Fahey: “It boils down to three reasons, that as a company we try to accomplish across everything that we do. All of our new ventures, whatever we choose to do, have to achieve at least one of these objectives. Television allows us to hit all three at once.”
The first is content creation, which: “has enabled us to invest in literally hundreds of hours of content we produce ourselves, that we own the rights to, and that we can choose to do whatever we want with. I don’t think there would have been any other way we could’ve done that in such a short time line. That’s probably the biggest reason we got into TV, just as a content creation engine.”
The second point of cross-platform reach is emblematic of VICE’s position as “a media company that tries to be platform-agnostic”:
“We create content that we hope is good, and then we want people to be able to watch that content anyway they want. Whether it’s on your phone, TV, or computer, we want to have consumers across all platforms. TV is still one of the biggest media consumption points; we felt we had to be there to be across all platforms.”
Thirdly, Fahey cites brand awareness:
“When we look towards the future, in what will clearly be an ever more competitive media environment, we think that it’s absolutely essential to have a strong, clear brand that means something in the industry. Getting into TV has helped raise our brand awareness to a level that we hadn’t seen before, and we think this will be something of value that we will be able to trade on going forward.”
The New News?
Promos for upcoming Viceland shows were played for students, exhibiting the diversity of their content. One of the channel’s original stars is the rapper and trained chef Action Bronson, who has a new show premiering this month, which is an as-yet-untitled “nightly cooking show.” Another clip played described the new show “DUMPS,” based off a popular online VICE series where reporters found the “London Rental Opportunity of the Week,” a.k.a. the worst property available to rent in London, and then proceeded to actually rent it out. The series was so popular online, it was decided it would make a great TV show, one that has already spawned spin-offs in the US and Canada.
The third content previewed for students was a promo for VICE News Tonight, the more traditionally set news reporting program for Viceland produced in partnership with HBO. VICE News Tonight is sure to serve up more of the classic in-depth news reportages the company has become known for online.
When asked about the future of Viceland in five, ten, twenty years, Fahey summed it up saying, “One of the things that we see as an opportunity…is nobody knows what’s going to happen with television. I think it’s safe to say that television as it is today, will not be the same in 5 years. We think that from starting Viceland, we are positioning ourselves to be able to be everywhere across these future platforms.”
Viceland is part of an integrated content strategy for VICE, so it’s difficult to judge it entirely separately as the content is distributed across the brand’s different platforms. But as an investment in content in a channel it is a bold return to the future.
This article by LSE MSc student Maureen Heydt.
For more information about the Polis Media and Communications in Action talks, please visit our website.