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HBO’s upcoming nightly Vice newscast will endeavor to fill the white space between traditional newscasts and the satirical approach popularized by The Daily Show and more recently John Oliver’s HBO program Last Week Tonight. Not that the show will set out to be humorous; rather its aim is to appeal to consumers who would never think to watch the 6:30 p.m. national broadcasts but probably are watching Oliver.
And judging by a prototype shown Tuesday to a group of reporters at Vice headquarters in Brooklyn, Vice News Tonight will hew more closely to the former — even if, as Josh Tyrangiel, vp of content and news at Vice, notes, the “traditional nightly news shows are not particularly modern.”
The newscast will feel familiar to regular consumers of the Vice verticals or the weekly Vice show that has aired on HBO since 2013. The prototype featured immersive field pieces about the military offensive to liberate Mosul from ISIS and Rutland, Vermont mayor Chris Louras‘ effort to settle 100 Syrian refugees in his small northeastern community. It also had several shorter, graphic-driven pieces on topics as varied as America’s deadly Fentanyl epidemic and the history of emojis.
The goal, says Tyrangiel, is not necessarily to break news — he knows for instance that Vice News Tonight will not be the first stop for candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — but to add perspective to the news of the day via a “modern, flexible” newscast.
The nightly program will air on HBO’s linear channel at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT and also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO Now and HBO Go. HBO will have seven days of exclusivity, after which pieces can be shown on Vice verticals. The newscast will not have an anchor. And some pieces will have touch-screen capability. To that end, Vice is delaying the planned premiere of Vice News Tonight two weeks from Sept. 26 to Oct. 10 to ensure that various technical interfaces are bug free.
“We want to test it on all of its platforms to make sure it’s perfect,” said Tyrangiel. “We plan to be on for a long time, so pushing back our launch a couple weeks is not a big deal.”
Tyrangiel, a veteran of more traditional news outlets including Time magazine and Bloomberg, says his marching orders from Vice chief Shane Smith are simply to create a great show. But he’s also endeavoring to create appointment viewing for a generation that has mostly eschewed the rigid confines of a linear TV schedule.
“I’ve always approached news as the ‘what,’ ‘so what’ and ‘now what,’” he explains. “The ‘what’ is the least important thing by the time you get to us [at 7:30 at night]. So we’re asking, what are the stories that matter that we can add a little bit more insight on?”
Smith is featured heavily on the weekly HBO show, which is produced by Bill Maher. And the nighty newscast is a way to broaden Smith’s brand and appeal. “He’s not here to be a shrinking violet,” notes Tyrangiel. “He wants to have an impact.”
Of course, Smith, profane and bombastic, has attracted millions in investments from traditional media including Disney/ABC and A+E Networks. The latter earlier this year launched the linear channel Viceland. But also he’s been a magnet for negative headlines, notably the company’s documented dismal treatment of its freelancers.
An Aug. 31 piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, written by freelance journalist Yardena Schwartz, detailed numerous instances of Vice either not paying freelancers, paying them very little or paying them very late and after much hounding. Noting that he came to Vice after the controversy bubbled to the surface, Tyrangiel characterize the CJR piece as something of a wake-up call. “There was a huddle” [in response to the piece]. “There was no defensiveness. I asked,’ What are we doing to address this issue and get these people paid?’ We take it seriously and acted swiftly.”
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