Shane Smith Teases Vice's Possible IPO

Shane McCauley for VICELAND
Van Der Beek writes, exec produces and stars in Viceland’s 'What Would Diplo Do?'

The company could have its eye on going public as it undergoes a scripted programming push with new series 'What Would Diplo Do?' starring James Van Der Beek.

Vice Media's latest cash infusion could signal that the brash digital firm is eyeing an IPO. A $450 million round of funding from TPG Capital, announced June 19, has given Vice a valuation of $5.7 billion, up from the $4 billion price tag it had in late 2015 following Disney's dual $200 million investments.

Vice is positioning the deal as crucial to its plans to ramp up the production of scripted programming through Vice Studios, which will make shows and features for digital and linear distribution. The company's first such effort in this space is the satirical series What Would Diplo Do?, starring James Van Der Beek (who executive produces) as the DJ. It's set to premiere this year on Viceland alongside such unscripted fare as the Ellen Page-hosted Gaycation and marijuana docuseries Weediquette.

But the fact that Vice turned to TPG, a private equity firm known for its investments in such hot pre-IPO startups as Airbnb and Spotify (as well as its majority ownership of mega agency CAA), for the money could mean that it is beginning to put the pieces in place for a public debut. "It's what we would do if we were going public," CEO Shane Smith said coyly during a CNBC interview that coincided with the announcement of TPG's investment. The Fort Worth, Texas- and San Francisco-based company is only the second institutional investor (after venture capital firm TCV) to lead an investment in Vice, alongside entertainment giants A+E and Fox. 

"Vice may very well be able to progress as an independent company, just as there are many small and midsized entertainment companies out there with TV and digital properties," notes Pivotal analyst Brian Wieser. 

A tie-up between Vice and Disney seemed all but inevitable a year ago after the owner of ESPN and Marvel upped the size of the stake it first acquired through A+E's earlier investment. In summer 2016, Smith even told THR the deal would "make sense" for both. Although the two companies remain close partners, a deal hasn't materialized. BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield says buying Vice isn't the right move for Disney: "What it lacks is a direct relationship with consumers of entertainment, sports and news — Vice doesn't solve that."

Smith, meanwhile, has been setting up several deals that give Vice shows multiplatform distribution for several years, a sign he could be readying his books for public inspection. As he told CNBC, "We'll go when we're ready."

A version of this story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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