A+E Chief Nancy Dubuc Talks Vice Culture Problems, Amazon Studios Job

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Nancy Dubuc

"It doesn't happen overnight," the A+E Networks chairman and CEO says of enacting change at Vice Media, which has been the subject of reports about its toxic workplace culture for women.

A+E Networks chief Nancy Dubuc on Tuesday spent much of her time onstage at the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, California, defending the company's investment in Vice Media. 

The Shane Smith-led youth media firm has come under fire in recent months for cultivating a "boys' club" environment that led to a toxic workplace culture for women. In December, The New York Times published a lengthy look at the environment at Vice, exposing several allegations of sexual harassment. And, on Tuesday, Vice Media became the subject of a class action lawsuit alleging systemic pay disparity. 

Dubuc, an outspoken advocate for women in Hollywood and a Vice board member, acknowledged that the company has work to do. But she pointed to the creation of a female-led diversity and inclusion advisory council as an example that Vice, which was born out of Montreal's punk rock scene, is making changes.

"I don't think they're alone. The bro-y culture is pervasive in our business," said the exec, adding that the company is also working to achieve pay parity. "I will give hats off to them for actually coming out and forming [the council] with a very impressive roster." When asked if Vice was doing enough, she noted that change "doesn't happen overnight."

Dubuc also explained the decision by A+E, which invested $250 million into Vice in 2014, to turn its H2 channel into Viceland. "From a distribution standpoint, it was quite a smart move," she said, noting that it was a long-term play for the young millennial male audience that A+E wasn't previously capturing. 

The two-year-old channel has been drawing a smaller audience than its predecessor. And the decision by Canada's Rogers Communications to terminate its $100 million joint venture with Vice, forcing Viceland off the air, has caused speculation about the fate of the U.S. network. 

But Dubuc defended Viceland's early performance, noting that it is available in less than half of all TV homes in the U.S. She also said that the audience has grown by more than 20 percent year-over-year. "They certainly have a way to go, but they're proving to deliver the second-most upscale audience to Bravo in cable," she added. "What do people want? Give us a shot here."

Dubuc, who shared the stage with Turner CEO John Martin, also fielded questions about her candidacy for the Amazon Studios chief job. She withdrew her name from the running last week, and Amazon has since announced that it has appointed NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke to the role, replacing former chief Roy Price, who was ousted over sexual harassment allegations. "The timing for me, as CEO of A+E, wasn't right," Dubuc explained, adding that she's known for being an East Coaster. (The Amazon Studios job is based in Los Angeles.)

When asked about Salke taking the job, Dubuc urged the Code Media attendees to support her, noting, "We need to see a woman as a head of a big studio be wildly successful."