Vice chief warns of media 'bloodbath' as companies face survival battle

By Christopher Williams

Vice founder/chief executive Shane Smith. Photo / Getty
Vice founder/chief executive Shane Smith. Photo / Getty

The chief executive of Vice, the highly valued youth media company, has warned of an imminent "bloodbath" in digital media and signalled he could sell up to a giant such as Disney in a bid for survival and growth.

Shane Smith, co-founder and chief executive of Vice Media, said at the Edinburgh International Television Festival that he is now wrestling "every day" with the question of whether to accept a takeover.

The company, which has raised investment from WPP, Fox and Disney on valuations of up to US$4.5 billion and is subject to regular bid speculation.

Smith said: "At one point or another, Time Warner tried to buy us, Fox tried to buy us, Viacom tried to buy us.

"What we're seeing happen is consolidation in mainstream media and a lot of new media is going to go away. There's just not enough money."

The entrepreneur's warning that many digital media companies will be "eviscerated" reflects widespread misgivings over the way some have become reliant on Facebook's opaque link sharing technology. They seek ever-higher levels of traffic as rates for online advertising fall.

Partly as a defence against the dominance of of the social media giant, Vice has sought to diversify by launching a traditional pay-TV channel Viceland.

Smith said the plan would deliver more content and revenue streams for the company.

Following a further US$200 million investment at the end of last year, Disney now owns 18 per cent of the equity in Vice. It is viewed as the potential favourite to pay up for the company among a gaggle of media giants keen to access the company's young audience online and on television.

Smith rejected claims a Disney takeover would mean Vice loses it's edgy, experimental culture.

He said: "They don't want to make Vice Disney. They want us give us autonomy to make their mistakes and be their laboratory.

"If it makes sense for them it makes sense for us."

Smith appeared to reject the idea of a stock market float, fearing that employees rewarded with share options could lose out if the company's value sinks.

He also hit back a critics of Vice's valuation, saying it was justified by the fact "every division we have has to make money and it always has".

Traditional media and telecoms companies have been investing in and buying up digital upstarts as they jostle for position in a shifting landscape.

We're not innovating. We're doing the exact same thing the music industry did when it was threatened.
Shane Smith, CEO of Vice

Verizon has snapped up the remains of AOL and Yahoo and Comcast acquired DreamWorks Animation for US$3.8b, and invested US$200m in BuzzFeed, for instance.

Smith also joined predictions of mega-mergers by the big US media groups, such as a repeat of Fox's abortive bid for Time Warner.

He said: "In the next six months everyone is going to try to buy everyone else. And we're going to sit there and laugh our heads off."

Smith spoke ahead of his MacTaggart Lecture, an annual set-piece attended by British television executives.

He used the platform to argue that the media industry is struggling to adapt to a new generation of consumers taking over from baby boomers as the dominant audience.

Millennials under the age of 35 are rejecting traditional media as a "closed club" that does not reflect their interests, Smith said.

He said: "We're not innovating. We're doing the exact same thing the music industry did when it was threatened. "

"Everyone loves disruption until you actually disrupt something. Then they hate your guts."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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