Vice Media Partnering With HBO on ''60 Minutes' For Young People’
“We’re about to do the weirdest upfront ever,” Vice Media CEO and co-founder Shane Smith told a loud audience of hundreds, just after taking a stage at the Williamsburg Savings Bank in downtown Brooklyn. “We’ve never done an upfront before and, I’ve never been to an upfront, so this is how I imagined it.”
The event was meant to showcase the launch of Vice's new video-heavy website vice.com. What Smith imagined wasn’t exactly the sort of party NBCUniversal might throw (he started out his presentation by telling the audience that everything Vice knew about how to run a successful website “we learned from porn”).
But it wasn’t all that far off, either.
The room may have been full of trendy revelers, but there were more than a few attendees in suits as well. And for all the talk of Vice’s adult video–inspired web strategy, Smith’s presentation courted mainstream advertisers and investors as it sought to paint his company as an institution in the throes of a rapid evolution—casting off its old image as a brazen, nihilistic youth culture ‘zine, and rebranding itself as a serious-minded youth-focused news outlet.
“When Vice first started, all we cared about was sex, drugs and rock n’ roll,” boomed the narrator of a video Smith played during his presentation. “But as we expanded, we became interested in news, politics, the environment… in fact we were opening bureaus as fast as traditional media was closing theirs.” Or as Smith put it “we started out a bit freaky, but now we can actually do something.”
To that end, Vice has started partnering with news outlets around the world to distribute its unique brand of far-flung "60 Minutes"-style news, with dispatches from the most troubled global hotspots (recent segments have taken a look at the Egyptian revolution, the blood diamond trade in Congo, and the arms trade in Pakistan). Three months ago, for example, Vice entered into a video content-sharing arrangement with the Huffington Post, according to HuffPo founding editor Roy Sekoff.
“Here’s the thing about Vice,” Sekoff told Adweek just after Smith’s presentation. “They are balls-y, they are edgy, but they’re smart and really well-informed. And the stuff that they’re bringing is not just ‘we’re wild men!’ If it was just that [we wouldn’t partner with them].” Vice has also reached similar arrangements with other outlets, including CNN, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel.
But the biggest partnership news of the evening was Smith’s announcement that Vice is currently developing its own newsmagazine program with HBO. Though he didn’t go into detail on stage, after his presentation Smith told Adweek that the show, which he described as a “'60 Minutes' for young people," will be executive produced by HBO host Bill Maher and called Vice T.V. Smith says the new program will air in primetime next fall.
If all the porn talk is any indication, Vice executives are still taking great pains not to alienate the publication’s base as they bring their publication in more earnest directions. Balancing both personae -- the low brow wild-child and the high-minded news organization -- without alienating any of their audience will undoubtedly be a challenge. But Smith seems clear in his goals for the company.
“We’ve been on the periphery for so long, just doing our own thing, that we figured we’d give it a shot to try to be normal. To try to do what you’re supposed to do,” Smith said. “A lot of money wants to do stuff with us, and a lot of platforms want to do stuff with us.”