Vice: Creating a New Platform for Independent Voices
When you cover media unfortunately this means you also cover twitter feeds. As you wake up. As you go to bed. Instead of asking your significant other about their day, your eye’s glare at headlines announcing, “Bentley the dog declared free of Ebola,” or hopefully something a bit more relevant to your cause: “HBO to launch streaming service.”
This seems interesting enough, poor Netflix just when they were getting started—but don’t get too excited—mediocrity just jumped on the bandwagon: “CBS just launched it’s own streaming site,” a sentence which resembles the color beige even more than an Eagles song.
I thought this whole streaming business was supposed to kill mediocrity, or at least dilute it down to .03 percent? Which means I want to talk about Vice, I need to talk about Vice. It’s the story big media outlets are ignoring. Journalism, filmmaking, music, tech—the former Canadian magazine has become more of an industry than a website—with groundbreaking content so fascinating it’s possible Vice has the capability to monopolize media.
Vice came to prominence at the perfect time, although a prevalent magazine, it was not established enough to be dumbfounded by the Internet. With The New York Times and other publications trying to find a virtual voice as traditional media was dying out, Vice was able to be front row and center.
Carr Schools Vice Co-Founder Shane Smith
With shorts, series, documentaries, news stories and my favorite addition on its U.K. site—simply entitled “stuff”—it’s uncensored direction allows staff contributors and freelancers to go beyond the mundane, journalists are given the opportunity to create media with a distinct personality. In its inception Vice’s main direction was glossy things otherwise untouched. As Shane Smith, the co-founder of Vice, recently told NPR’s Steve Inskeep, “all we had been really concerned about was rare denim, rare sneakers and supermodels.”
With its newfound international relevance (the media outlet has offices around the globe) stories that begin with “Yo, both my parent’s are hella dead,” Joel Golby’s infectious piece about the death of his parents, and documentaries that cover Istanbul’s Kurdish riots, Iran’s fashion renaissance and internet dating, freelance filmmakers such as Jordan Kinley (stopyelling.org) have the opportunity to create groundbreaking content. With the success of it’s alternative media, Vice has now created its own film distribution company, releasing “Reincarnated,” “Heavy Metal in Baghdad,” and “All This Mayhem,” which traces the troubled lives of Australian skateboarder’s Tas and Ben Pappas.
As ADWEEK’s Michelle Castillo recently reported, with Vice selling “10 percent of its company to A&E Networks for $250 million” and an additional “ $250 million through another 10 percent ownership deal with Technology Crossover Ventures,” creating “niche” content for theatrical distribution is risky. As the company’s executive creative director Danny Gabai told Castillo, “our audience is looking to us for unique content, and we’re just as obsessed with these films as we are with content in our many channels. It’s awesome stuff we can’t see anywhere else and a good representation of our brand.”
As Apple continues to dominate smart phones, tablet’s, and pretty much anything that lights up, it’s fair to suggest that media (particularly independent films) should have the same approach Apple has to quality—although profit margins will continue to be important for growth—superior content creates longevity for brands. The Vice approach could also change the way distributors acquire and market films. With the company dominating a wide range of Internet markets, valuing at $1.4 billion, perhaps visionary filmmaking has a chance beyond the niche marketplace?
With diverse content finding it’s way onto our electronic devices, it’s hard to ignore that the obsession with multifaceted media will grow, something that film distributors can’t avoid. Leo, Vampires and movies about sex tapes will continue to pervade our cultural landscape, but as this landscape diversifies so will the way we acquire and distribute films.