A+E Networks Chief Nancy Dubuc in Talks to Run Vice Media

The cable veteran would replace Shane Smith as CEO.
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Nancy Dubuc

Change is coming to Vice Media, where cable TV veteran Nancy Dubuc is in talks to assume the CEO role long held by co-founder Shane Smith.

The news comes as the new-media company, which includes a linear cable channel partnership with Dubuc's A+E Networks, has found itself embroiled in #MeToo-era turmoil amid allegations of sexual harassment that has seen executives shown the door. Recognizing that the company could benefit from a powerful female at its helm and already having a short-hand with Dubuc, Smith is said to have recruited her to the top position. The talks are believed to be in the late stages but not yet formalized. Assuming Dubuc does step into the CEO role, Smith would scale back more than he already has in recent years, though he will remain involved in content.

Dubuc's mid-April exit from her current post at A+E, which has been confirmed with a statement from corporate parents Hearst and Disney, follows her high-profile courtship with Amazon. Earlier this year, she had been in the running for the top programming job at streaming giant; the gig ultimately went to former NBC Entertainment chief Jennifer Salke. An insider suggests the A+E board was rankled by the public nature of Dubuc's wandering eye, which contributed to her decision to move on. Until a new chief is found, former A+E Networks boss and Dubuc's one-time mentor, Abbe Raven, will return to a role in which she enjoyed significant if much lower-profile success.

The timing of Dubuc's departure comes not only as her current contract approaches its conclusion but also as the linear cable business faces increased challenges in the Peak TV era. Dubuc has ridden that tide for several years now, having served as CEO at A+E since 2013, only the third in the company's approximately 30-year history. Her gut for programming, outspoken style and confidence have made her one of the most effective and easily one of the most candid executives in the industry, which could make her a good fit for Vice.

Indeed, during her tenure, Dubuc moved swiftly to successfully rebranded multiple networks in the A+E portfolio, notably History, which has also become a scripted destination with dramatic fare including Vikings and military entry Six. And as ownership became increasingly critical in the longtail content universe, she also launched A+E Studios, the company's longform production unit, which now produces Six and 2016's Roots remake, Lifetime's UnREAL and History drama Knightfall. Her time at the cable giant also was defined by the ways in which she expanded the brand's footprint, especially with digital and new-media partnerships.

It was in late 2015 that Dubuc oversaw the joint venture agreement with Vice Media that launched Viceland in 2016 and led to a 20 percent stake in the one-time content darling. Despite heavy hype, the network has struggled to draw broad linear ratings for its slate of younger-skewing programming. Assuming she takes on the CEO role, Dubuc will have her work cut out for her, both at the network and the larger company, which counts Disney and Fox among its investors.

Vice Media has come under fire of late for cultivating a "boys' club" environment that has allegedly led to a toxic workplace culture for female employees. In late 2017, The New York Times published an in-depth look at the environment at the Brooklyn-based company, which included several allegations of sexual harassment. More recently, Vice became the subject of a class-action lawsuit alleging systemic pay disparity.

Moreover, Dubuc would be joining at a rocky time for digital media companies, too. Both Vice and BuzzFeed were said to have missed revenue projections last year amid heated competition for digital ad dollars from tech giants Facebook and Google. At one time, Smith spoke openly to the media about plans to take Vice public, but such talk has cooled in recent months. With revenue growth slowing, the $5.7 billion company would likely need to cut costs and focus on becoming profitable to emerge as an attractive acquisition target.

Dubuc made no mention of the pending Vice gig in her parting words, which included: “For nearly 20 years, I have called A+E Networks home and the team has been an extended part of my family. Together, we have had the privilege to build some of the most iconic brands in media. Every step of my career, I have had the opportunity to learn and grow from some of the most inspiring and innovative minds at A+E and in both the creative and business community. I could not be prouder of what we achieved together. Anyone who knows me well knows I am an entrepreneur, creator, rebel and disruptor at heart. I have a famous neon sign in my office that blares ‘Who dares wins.’ After 20 years at A+E, the hardest thing will be to leave the people and company I love. But, as a creative executive and leader, and to stay true to my personal mantra, I need my next dare and my next challenge."

Hearst president and CEO Steven R. Swartz and Disney/ABC TV's president Ben Sherwood praised Dubuc and her contributions in a joint statement: “In her roughly 20 years at A+E Networks, Nancy played a major role in building the success of A&E, History and Lifetime, and we thank her for her leadership."

The news was first reported by Variety

Additional reporting by Natalie Jarvey.

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