‘We’re the changing of the guard – you had your time, now it’s our time’, Vice CEO Shane Smith’s message to mainstream media

The once niche Gen Y audience of Vice have become the consumers of general media and global traditional media outlets will soon be rendered “obsolete”, according to Vice co-founder and CEO Shane Smith.

CEO: Shane Smith

Speaking to The Drum at Vice’s IAB Digital Upfronts event in London, Smith said the closure rate of international news bureaus was matched by the opening of Vice offices and predicted that Vice and other online successes such as Buzzfeed signalled the start of a significant challenge to mainstream media in its more traditionally strong grounds.

“If you look at how fast news bureaus are closing, it’s sort of diametrically opposed to how fast we’re opening,” he said. “What’s happening is there’s a lack of international news, there’s a lack of international access, and there’s definitely a huge open space there for us to go in.

“Nobody actually goes and shoots the news; everyone has an opinion, everyone can tell you what it means, but nobody actually shoots the news, and that’s what we’re going to try to do in as many countries as we possibly can.”

“Gen Y used to be niche, and Vice as the voice of Gen Y was niche. Now, Gen Y is general media, so everybody should wake up to that fact and all mainstream media sitting around going ‘what are we going to do, what are we going to do’ – I’ll tell you what you’re going to do, you’re audience is ageing up and as your audience ages up you’re going to become obsolete.

“The next changing of the guard is going to come, and Vice and Buzzfeed, we’re the changing of the guard, so you had your time, now it’s our time.”

Vice has rocketed to the forefront of news in recent months following the launch of its Vice News strand which has taken the publication into the core of the mainstream news agenda’s biggest stories, often ahead of the traditional outlets.

Coverage from behind the lines of Isis and the thick of the crisis in Ukraine has put Vice firmly on the map, and its success is now enabling Vice News to expand into seven new markets: Germany, France, Italy, Spain Australia and Brazil.

However, reporting from the frontlines of major global stories has not been without risk, and Vice recently pulled a team out of Liberia reporting on the Ebola virus outbreak. Smith estimated that Vice uses around 5,000 freelancers around the world to report on stories.

American freelancer Ashoka Mukpo was recently diagnosed with the Ebola virus while working for NBC News in the region. Despite claims that NBC News and Vice were “coordinating” to pay his medical bills - Mukpo was also freelancing for Vice around the time he contracted the virus – friends of Mukpo have set out a crowdsourcing appeal to cover the cost of his treatment.

“There’s always a risk,” Smith said. “Sadly, the best stories happen to be in the scariest places. That said, I never send anyone to a story I wouldn’t do myself.

“We just had the best coverage of Ebola but I pulled the team out because it’s too scary, I’m too worried. I wouldn’t have stayed, and if I’m not going to stay then my team can’t stay.”

Looking ahead, Smith admitted that one of the biggest challenges for Vice was finding a way to monetise mobile, and said the company will likely embark on further advertising partnerships – such as its relationship with Intel for the Creators Project – because display advertising “will not work on mobile”.

“If I could do a site with no advertising I would because it’s a bad user experience, and I don’t think it works, quite frankly,” Smith said. “That said, a lot of brands want earned media, they don’t want bought media. That means they want to help, they want to be producers, they say if we’re doing a show about the environment, they’re concerned about the environment, they’ll pay us to do that show as a producer.

“Now is that going to be perfect? No. Nothing is ever fucking perfect,” he went on. “My first job out of college was Greenpeace and our biggest problem was trying to find a perfect environmental solution. Guess what? There are none.

“But unless we all start saying 'ok, we all have to do something; corporations have to do something, magazines have to do something, individuals have to do something, media has to do something', until everybody says 'we have to do something' we’re fucked.”

He added: “Nobody’s got mobile figured out but I definitely know that display advertising will not work on mobile, so unless we figure out some sort of partnership we’re going to be spending a lot of money on content for mobile for a very short period of time.

“Money allows the freedom to make content, so if we don’t figure out how to monetise mobile, then we won’t be making the content for mobile, so that’s our biggest challenge.”

Smith also confirmed Vice’s interest in setting up a television network, although the company has yet to reveal any concrete plans or timescale.

Vice was recently boosted by a $500m investment from Technology Crossover Ventures (TCV) and A+E Networks to develop new products. According to Vice, the investment increased the company’s value to more than $2.5bn.

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