Vice Media Unveils Expansion Into Russia, Eastern Europe

Shane Smith Headshot - P 2013
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Shane Smith Headshot - P 2013

The company is growing its two-year partnership with Greek-based Antenna Group to roll out its digital offering into Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia and Croatia.

As part of its ongoing plans for global domination, Vice Media on Wednesday announced it is rolling out into Eastern Europe, with plans to set up shop in seven new territories — including Russia — by the end of the year.

The move comes just a week after it unveiled the upcoming launch of Viceland in the U.K. and a month after its first 24-hour TV channel began airing in the U.S. and sees Vice expanding its partnership with the Athens-based broadcaster Antenna Group. In 2014, it launched both digitally and on the company's linear TV networks in Greece, Serbia and Romania. Vice now produces a daily TV show and eight 45-minute specials for Antenna's Greek network.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in London, Vice co-founder and CEO Shane Smith said the decision to go into Eastern Europe was a "no-brainer," given the numbers experienced with Antenna so far.

"In only a couple of years of operation in Greece, we reached about 30 percent reach of the younger demographic, the Millennials, in Serbia 40 percent and 50 percent in Romania," added Antenna's CEO Theo Kyriakou. "Some of the Vice-produced TV shows on our free-to-air network on the main competitive network in Greece picked up 25 percent audience share on its time slot, and in Serbia 33 percent, way above the station average."

The launch in the new territories will initially focus on building a digital presence and see production hubs launched in each country to develop local content. But it could soon herald a move into TV and linear programming.

"As soon as Shane gives the green light, we’ll launch Viceland in all those markets," said Kyriakou. "We have the cable licenses and the demand is there. It's a matter of priorities. It makes more sense to enter a market, put some shows up on the free-to-air linear and once there is traction, launch a 24-hour channel."

Smith said that the results in Greece, which Vice had used "like a lab" for its international expansion, and in Serbia and Romania showed there was "obviously a large audience with no content being pushed to them."

Each of the new territories will develop Vice content in the local language, with material brought from overseas translated for the local audience. Kyriakou said he expected the models to follow a similar mix to Greece, with a mix of 60 percent locally produced to 40 percent international.

Given the move into Eastern Europe, does Smith have plans to continue the rollout further and into the likes of Turkey and even beyond into the Middle East? Such a move could throw up a few awkward hurdles (Vice recently saw three of its journalists arrested in Turkey on terrorism charges after reporting on police clashes with a Kurdish organization).

"Yes and yes. We have to look at the those markets and definitely want production hubs in all them," he said. "Looking forward, we do, but we just want to do it carefully."