Vice throws in the towel

For sale: One gently used iconic Canadian-founded media brand.

What happened: Vice Media, the company behind Vice, filed for bankruptcy and could be taken over by a group of its lenders for US$225 million—well short of its US$5.7 billion valuation in 2017. The struggling media outlet will solicit other offers in the coming months.

Why it matters: From sneaking into North Korea to profiling a Siberian cult leader, Vice, which started as a tiny punk zine in Montréal, represented a new frontier of media by telling edgy stories and making waves on this crazy, newfangled thing called social media. 

  • Everyone from Disney to Rupert Murdoch wanted a piece, helping Vice raise over US$1.6 billion from venture capitalists.

“VCs imagined a world where Vice would be Disney,” BuzzFeed News founding editor Ben Smith recently told Bloomberg. While Vice was the best-marketed brand of the digital media era, he said it failed to build a large digital audience, falling behind outlets offering high-quality subscription services.  

Why it’s happening: While execs claimed Vice was more versatile than other online publishers thanks to its TV deals, it still relied heavily on dwindling ad dollars and never devised a viable strategy to meet aggressive financial goals. 

  • Those TV deals proved risky, anyways. Vice took a hit after HBO severed ties, and again when Greek media group Antenna stopped paying it for a production deal. 

Bottom line: While Vice says it’ll come out of this a stronger company, its bankruptcy and impending sale, along with layoffs at fellow digital media giants BuzzFeed and Vox, mark the end of an era for media.—QH