It's Official: Vice Channel to Take Over A+E Networks' History Spinoff H2

Spike Jonze - H 2015
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

The new channel, with the working name Viceland, will launch as early as February, with Oscar winner Spike Jonze as creative director.

A+E Networks and Vice jointly announced that they will collaborate on a channel set to launch as early as February in place of A+E's History spinoff H2.

The announcement makes official what has been expected since last year, when A+E took a 10 percent, $250 million stake in Shane Smith's Vice Media. The new channel, with the working name of Viceland, will launch in 70 million homes on top cable and satellite providers including DirecTV-AT&T, which has 26 million video subscribers, and Comcast, which is in 22 million homes. Other providers that will carry Vice's channel include Time Warner Cable and Dish Network.

"Vice has a bold voice and a distinctive model in the marketplace," said Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO of A+E Networks, in a statement. "This channel represents a strategic fit and a new direction for the future of our portfolio of media assets."

Dubuc led the initial investment in Vice, which CEO Shane Smith started in 1994 as an alternative weekly magazine in Montreal. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company has become an investment darling, thanks to its ability to reach young consumers who have come of age in the digital era. Vice Media reached 61.2 million uniques in September across its suite of channels, according to comScore.

Powered with cash from Silicon Valley (Technology Crossover Ventures invested $250 million in 2014) and traditional media (21st Century Fox took a 5 percent, $70 million stake in 2013), Smith has asserted that Vice is worth $4 billion and has of late hinted that a public offering could be the next step in expansion. A brash executive who also is Vice's biggest on-air personality, Smith long has aspired to launch his own TV network. But negotiations last year with Time Warner to take over HLN broke down over creative control. Smith and his team — Spike Jonze will be the channel's creative director — will control the content on Viceland and get less than half of the value of the channel. With an additional $200 million investment from Disney, A+E will get another 7 percent stake in Vice for a total of close to 15 percent of the company.

Jonze, who last year took home an Oscar for the Her screenplay, has been working with Smith for several years. He appeared in the MTV show The Vice Guide to Everything back in 2010. Smith tapped him as creative director of the brand, and for the last several months, Jonze has been at work on Viceland's slate of programs.

“It feels like most channels are just a collection of shows. We wanted Viceland to be different, to feel like everything on there has a reason to exist and a strong point of view," said Jonze in a statement. "Our mission with the channel is not that different from what our mission is as a company: It’s us trying to understand the world we live in by producing pieces about things we’re curious about or confused about or that we think are funny. And if it doesn't have a strong point of view, then it shouldn't be on this channel.”

The network's primetime slate includes Gaycation with Ellen Page and Ian Daniel, Huang’s World with Eddie Huang, Noisey, Vice World of Sports with Sal Masekela, Flophouse, Party Legends and Weediquette.

Before it became an investment opportunity for legacy media, Vice made its money in native advertising. And Smith has said that he will pare down the ad load for Viceland (a typical TV hour has about 15 minutes of commercials) and instead partner with brands on creative integrations.

"This network is the next step in the evolution of our brand and the first step in our global rollout of networks around the world,” added Smith. “First: It allows us to be truly platform agnostic and enable our audience to view our content wherever they want. Second: It represents a continued growth in our content quality and raises the ceiling even higher for our brilliant teams to attack stories, from long-form features to multiepisode series and even short-form interstitials that will challenge the accepted norms of current TV viewing. Third: We will test new and innovative monetization strategies placing Viceland at the pointy tip of the spear of the rapidly changing terrain of TV advertising."

A+E Networks will oversee technical operations and distribution and will work with Vice on ad sales and sponsorships. H2 will continue to operate outside the U.S. The channel is in 68 territories. Smith is laying the groundwork for an aggressive expansion into Europe next year.