December 3, 2023

Vice Media Empire Is Near a Big Infusion of Cash

Today it is a pan-media confederation with a record label, a book label, its own television series and a full-service media agency. It is about to grow larger still with the backing of some of the biggest names and deepest pockets in the media business.

Vice is preparing to announce investment partnerships with Tom Freston, MTV’s co-founder; WPP, the giant media conglomerate; and the Raine Group, a boutique investment firm. To help it expand, Vice has also enlisted William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and its chief executive, Ari Emanuel, to represent the company.

“We’ve kind of been on the periphery for a long time,” said Shane Smith, one of Vice’s founders. “We said it’s time to turn on the jets. We’d reached the ceiling of what we can do on our own.”

To undertake the kind of growth that Vice would like — adding to its news and sports divisions and building large-scale operations in emerging markets like China, India and Brazil — it needed more capital than it was generating on its own. The company has not disclosed the exact size of the investment from its new partners but has put the sum in the high eight figures.

Mr. Freston, WPP and the Raine Group will be minority investors but will all have seats on the Vice board, allowing Vice’s leadership to maintain control over business operations and the creative direction.

Mr. Freston, who bought part of Vice when he was chief executive of Viacom and has enjoyed a close relationship with Mr. Smith ever since, will become an adviser on the company’s expansion.

In an interview, Mr. Freston said Vice’s test would be whether it could grow while maintaining its edge and countercultural appeal.

“One of their challenges as they expand is going to be how they keep true to what made them successful in the first place,” Mr. Freston said. “You don’t want to be a sellout to your sponsors. You don’t want to be chasing increasingly lowest-common-denominator programming. You have to crystallize what you are, not get arrogant, and not necessarily make continual growth your mandate.”

He added: “I do believe their business is at a scale where it can sizably increase without them having to be some sellout, oversized corporate machine, which is what you see so often. I think they can keep their own peculiar way.”

As a magazine, Vice succeeded at being on the fringes of popular culture, chronicling hip bands, fashion trends and the kind of cultural oddities that mainstream publications would find too parochial. Its creators took that sensibility to spawn extensions of the Vice brand, including Vice Films, Vice Books and Virtue Worldwide, a brand strategy and creative development firm that does work for corporations like Intel, Nike and Dell. Vice teamed with MTV to produce “The Vice Guide to Everything,” a 30-minute documentary program that featured topics as disparate as reindeer racing and child soldiers in Sri Lanka. It opened new digital efforts like Noisey, a music site, and Motherboard.TV, a technology site.

Vice now employs 750 people in offices in 34 countries and claims some 2,500 contributors. Mr. Smith said that as a next step, he would like to see Vice build offices in China and India that are on par with its large operations in London and New York. He said he expected the company’s profits to approach $50 million within the next couple of years.

“We’ve come to a crucial point in our existence,” he said. “It’s kind of like Vice has reached its bouncing-off point, our springboard.”

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