Cannes Lions 2016: Vice’s Shane Smith Shares Plans for International Growth


Cannes Lions Vice Shane Smith

“Twelve months from now we’ll be on the cover of Time magazine as the guys who brought millennials back to TV.” That was Vice Media CEO Shane Smith in February about the launch of the new Vice TV station Viceland. But then two months later the ratings came out and Viceland drew only 55,000 daily viewers—or about four times fewer than H2, the channel it replaced. So Vice TV is going to plow forward and do for international TV what it’s done in the US.

“We are doing television networks, mobile networks, online networks in 44 countries in 4 months, which is the fastest-growing television network in history,” Smith triumphantly announcement at a press conference at the ongoing Cannes Lions Festival, where he was named media person of the year. Smith bragged that his predictions of “12 countries in 12 months” had been a vast under-estimation. Viceland will  be partnering with all manner of content providers worldwide from Sky New Zealand to The Times of India Group to Moby Media Group. The intercontinental launch is widespread, from Quebec to Southeast Asia to Africa to Australia and the Middle East. Half of the content will be rebroadcasts of existing Vice content from Viceland and its HBO show, the other half will be locally produced.

Hours after his announcement, the number of countries had again increased from the 44 Smith noted to “over 50” in a report by Bloomberg. Part of Vice’s strategy to move into international TV is to “tap into some of the ad dollars that are still in TV.

The announcement comes a month after Vice laid off 20 employees in a restructuring plan that itself followed a rejection of UK staff unionization.

Technically speaking, Viceland is already in 50-plus countries. Its YouTube channel is far more popular than its TV channel—and available to viewers anywhere YouTube is not blocked. But Vice wants to be in TV business because, of course, advertising.

The aggressive expansion should probably not come as a surprise to anyone who’s listened to David Purdy, Vice’s International Growth Officer. In a February interview with Marketing, Purdy said, “I get excited because there’s stories coming out of Brazil, Spain, France, London, Paris, India—each one of them is producing a great show. So all of a sudden we have 12 fantastic shows.”

Also, Purdy added:

“What we like it about it is that it’s a sort of four-legged stool: we have a network, Viceland; we have a studio; a robust digital business; and a big telecom sponsorship. If you look at France, England, Spain, Japan, Latin America, we have a studio in each location with a big telecom sponsor. It gives us a real circle of goodness.

“The over-the-air or speciality channel helps drive awareness of the Vice brand, which drives the digital business, which makes the telecom sponsorship more valuable. So it all works in concert. We produce content that we’re leveraging for Viceland, but it can also help populate our digital verticals, and the content we’re producing now in Toronto has mostly been bought by the U.S. networks. It’s a really good model.”

Purdy’s interview reveals that Vice’s expansion isn’t just what young people worldwide want, it’s what telecoms worldwide want: A bottomless pit of content for young people which provides a never-ending delivery mechanism for advertising. Advertising that includes a lot more branded and native ads, which are basically content, so win-win.

Like a shark that has to keep moving so oxygen-rich water flows over its gills, Vice must keep expanding to keep developing markets for its increasingly low budget stream of content.