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Vice Media: A Company Built on a Bluff (nymag.com)
183 points by peeze 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

> When I asked Dominique Delport, the chief revenue officer, whether the company was profitable, he declined to say and suggested that dollar figures were the wrong way to think about Vice. “The company profit is to everybody who watches Vice, because they feel smarter,” he said.

Investors should run away as quickly as possible. If that quote from the Chief Revenue Officer isn't a red flag, I don't know what is.

It took Twitter 10 years to turn a profit: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2018/02/08/twitter-...

To suggest that an investor can't earn a profit by putting cash into a business with a burn rate is as sophomoric as believing you can run a business on investor money without ever turning a profit.

I wasn’t suggesting that a business needs to be profitable from day one. I was suggesting that the Chief Revenue Officer should measure revenue & profitability in dollars and cents, rather than in the number of people that “feel smarter”.

He could have talked about revenue growth, investing in expansion, CAC decreasing at scale, etc. There are many ways to approach this question that demonstrate a quantitative grasp of the business and inspire confidence. His answer was not one of them.

In the quote you pulled he was talking to the press, right? That's no reason to assume he gives the same answer to investors, or more generally that he has no other answers to give.

That would be off-brand. Most executives speak very demurely to the public about their interest in making money.

> It took Twitter 10 years to turn a profit:

So a company took 10 years of burning through cash until a moment it didn't. Is that supposed to mean it was a sound investment?


Seems like it worked out great for the early investors.

It doesn't mean that it is, but it can be. In Twitter's case it was.

>"It took Twitter 10 years to turn a profit"

Twitter and Vice Media(as opposed to just the magazine) both have origins of 2006.

From the article:

>"In 2006, Vice started Virtue, a cheekily named ad agency that allowed the magazine to deploy its creative talents on behalf of brands. A year later, Vice became one of the first digital-media outlets to get into online video with vbs.tv, a digital-video site funded with a $2 million investment from Viacom."

Vice has been around since the mid 90's. It started as the Montreal Voice.

Yes which is why I clearly stated - "Vice Media(as opposed to just the magazine)"

The economy is at its height now, so it's not that surprising. We don't know if Twitter survives the next low.

You're equating a conversation with a journalist (=the public) with one with an investor, though.

Lol... this is the CRO response of basically saying, "oh yeah? Well we're cool and you're not!" Unlike those rich boring financial nerd companies who turn profit, we increase the feeling of cool intangible things.

The mistake you're making is assuming people who control media outlets always care about money.

Money just retains control of the industry on the long-term.

It's all about the power, and influence.

Murdoch isn't invested in Vice for shits.

Elon Musk recently said profit isn't what drives his company, which isn't much different than what the CRO was saying here.

Everybody says that. Especially when they aren't doing so good at profit.

What do you mean? That's the way journalism works. "Don't think about salaries or dollar figures, think about the exposure you'll be getting!"

Being one of the few pre-Internet media companies to still be around in some form today, their story is pretty fascinating. It clearly hasn't worked out for the better though. Vice on HBO, while covering a massive breadth of topics, suffer from their presentation; their nasally-voiced mid 20s employees they send on documentaries are mostly boredom-inducing, and their various online news outlets are Buzzfeed-tier clickbait with the occasional well-researched piece.

IFC's documentary parody series Documentary Now! (https://www.ifc.com/shows/documentary-now) did a great episode in its first season called "DRONEZ: The Hunt for El Chingon" that is an hilarious, pitch-perfect sendup of the Vice documentary style. It's on Netflix, if memory serves.

I somewhat prefer the parody Juan Likes Rice and Chicken from Documentary Now! to Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the fiction is sweeter and less cruel than the reality of a decade of training to get qualified to learn to cook an egg.

I think that captures the zeitgeist really well. Vice is now just a pale imitation of what used to be true cultural 'edginess'.

That's the crux of relying upon transgression for value--it ages rapidly and if it obtains mainstream success, dies on the spot. You can see it happen with authors, musicians, writers, essentially any creative output.

In terms of popular media, the early seasons of South Park and the Simpsons look absolutely saccharine compared to where culture's Overton Window is today. "Don't have a cow, man!" is positively benign.

> In terms of popular media, the early seasons of South Park and the Simpsons look absolutely saccharine compared to where culture's Overton Window is today. "Don't have a cow, man!" is positively benign.

I'd argue that South Park actually matured and toned things down on one hand, and amped things up on the other.

Their early episodes relied heavily on shock value. The later seasons are more nuanced, and rely less on gross out, bodily humor, or people laughing at cartoon kids swearing.

I agree about South Park, they pivoted to be a compliment rather than a counter to current times

> "Don't have a cow, man!" is positively benign.

To think I was once taken to the principal's office for wearing this on a bart simpson t-shirt, which they told me to turn inside out. I of course refused, culminating in a very difficult day for the authority figures involved.

I love what VICE was ~2005-2010. VICE and what it has become today (see: VICELAND) is... nothing what it used to be. I love their documentary style from the 2010 range. The NK documentaries on YouTube were my favorite. They've turned into like you said a buzzfeed-tier garbage.

I was a student in Montreal in the late 90s, and was on to Vice before it was cool, when it was just a free alt-weekly punk-ass print rag. It was from outer space. I read it religiously.

The do's and don'ts to this day inform my acerbic wit aspirations.

Really? Because their dispatches from Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, etc are all pretty great. Isobel Yeung, Hind Hassan, Michael C. Moynihan, Simon Ostrovsky, are all pretty solid. There are some corespondents and hosts that are horribly bad, but Vice has some huge talent....which makes BuzzFeed News (not to be confused with BuzzFeed) look like NowThis. Vice (not Vice News) is horrible though, Vice News is the jewel of that org. It's when they do things that aren't from their dispatches that they really struggle. Their commentary on Vice on HBO is often cringe inducing.

Isobel, Hind, and Antonia are the best reporters they have and their coverage of the Charlottesville rally was pretty jaw dropping.

second for the north korea documentary on youtube. in my opinion it's still one of the best, even so many years later, at showing what lengths they go to in building the facade for tourists and the rest of the world.

sidebar: i still feel bad about that poor tea girl.

agreed. in my mind, the last really good piece they had was when they sent simon ostrovsky to the war in ukraine.

the quality went downhill and i've stopped following them a few years ago. but back in the day, they were excellent as far as gonzo journalism goes.

I actually watch Vice News Tonight every night. I'm a well off 29 year old white male for demo info. I find they often cover stories I haven't heard about and their foreign war reporting I think is fairly unique outside of like a dedicated Frontline episode.

There are definitely reporters I like more. For instance Ben Anderson always brings a lot of context to the minutiae of the many wars. Elle Reeves (charlottesville) also usually has interesting stories, lots of times focusing on kind of the opposite of my morality; Showing perspectives from the racist right and people like the 'pick up' artist who is actually more a misogynistic pimp.

I also consider myself a fairly heavy news consumer as I work in politics and read throughout the day.

Previously they were curiosity driven on unique documentary topics, now they just become an endless left wing guilt channel. Your examples illustrate this really well.

I remember the days when Vice let people freely decide what to think about child soldiers, drug smugglers or donkey lovers. Today their one-sided ideological perspective makes it just cringeworthy to watch.

In what ways do the left and right differ in view of child soldiers et al?

not necessarily child soldiers but i've noticed a tonal shift from "this is something that's happening, here are the facts, we sent a guy in with a camera to check it out" to "this is happening! you should feel horrible about it! if you don't, you're a monster!"

I find their news program on HBO quite good actually, despite their younger journalists who may occasionally fall flat in their interviewing. I can think of numerous interesting stories across the globe; interviewing foreign (I’m American) politicians and people to give a deeper perspective that goes beyond simple headlines.

Being one of the few pre-Internet media companies to still be around in some form today...


Vice was a print skateboard magazine before its current incarnation.

I know that, but I don't grok the "few" part of the comment.

I just read an article in NYT about how there were no news media sources before the internet... or did I see that on PBS... I can't remember now.

> Being one of the few pre-Internet media companies to still be around in some form today

Err, what?

I grew up in Berkeley California and every couple weeks in my sophmore year of HS in 2003 I would go up to Amoeba music, to grab the latest issue, and figure out what was cool, Dos and Donts, Guide to Anal sex, what have you. In 2009 my electronic music group Party Effects used to burn CD's, and then infilitrate the various distribution points of VICE magazine to include a copy of our Electronic Music Compilations.. To no success.. but alas The print magazine, complete with racy American Apparel ads was a part of my childhood. I dont know what happened or how they became a multinational news organization. Last year I did the music for an ad they did in Mexico City in a partnership with Samsung, and I thought I was being pretty cool, till they only payed me about $300 bucks in pesos, 5 weeks after I finished it. I have met many Vice magazine employees in Condesa CDMX and almost all make practicly nothing, but do it because it is 'cool', maybe their parents were rich. Interesting article, but I always guessed they were scummy, but thats allright..

I grew up with a similar relationship to vice and the horror stories of cool points in place of real money later on, from almost every one I know that's worked for them in any capacity turned me off and most of the people i know in those circles

The interesting thing in this is coming right out with how the company built its numbers with botted traffic and referrer-spammed traffic. This is generally under-remarked upon because everyone except for advertisers tends to want to not mention this common practice.

If you bot hard enough you can get real investors and advertisers to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars.

Fully agreed. This is the meat of the article.

> taking over a 75,000-square-foot space in South Williamsburg occupied in part by Death by Audio, a local music venue

RIP, DBA! I always found it somewhat ironic that Vice, with roots in being edgy and punk, drove away one of Brooklyn’s top DIY edgy music venues. With Silent Barn also closing it’s been a sad five years for DIY in Brooklyn. :(

Also Glasslands and 285 Kent all in that same block! Sometimes it’s hard to believe how wild things really were 10 years ago.

> Sometimes it’s hard to believe how wild things really were 10 years ago.

Tell me about it! I moved into a (100% illegal) squat off the Morgan stop in 2008 after high school... that neighborhood was blast back then. The bicycle club below us was shut down because they were moving automatic weapons through a daycare center (who sends their toddlers to an MC-run daycare center?). Kind of crazy how quickly NYC has changed!

The key point in the article is that the Vice we see today really didn't start until 2010, and it has nothing much to do with Vice magazine that existed in the late 90s and early 2000s..

I remember seeing a copy of the actual magazine in London at the end of the 90s, the entire cover was reflective like a mirror and it had a big line of white powder on it. It was pretty cool and unique as a anti establishment punk mag back then.

Some of their documentaries now are just total BS, like the "world's scariest drug" which is just about Scopolamine.

Wow quite the story. I always wondered where that brand popped up. Now that I know the full story, I hope to see its demise. It embodies everything that's wrong with this world of idiocracy: do the biggest shit and get away with it.

It seems to me that there are far worse candidates for driving idiocracy. In the early days I liked some of the crazy places they sent reporters for the paper. They would go places no one else would and find interesting stories. There was a bit of that in the HBO show. I also liked some of the HBO climate change specials and thought they did a good job of going to the source - e.g. flying with NASA over Antarctica.

Same. When I read the #metoo article about them, I asked HBO to drop them. HBO never even bothered to reply, so I canceled my subscription. This article made me glad I had.

Wow did the writer get fired from Vice?

I thought all of this was pretty normal for companies starting to grow.

Yeah sales/marketing always is scummy, but its 2018, do you think FB says I'm an 'active user' despite me only going on it 1 time a month? You bet.

I thought all of this was pretty normal for companies starting to grow.

No, it's not normal at all. It's normal for scam artists and Silicon Valley and used car salesmen. But no, it's now how real businesses start and grow.

Henry Ford, JD Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Walt Disney didn't go around bragging about "doing blow on naked models."

OK, maybe Rockefeller.

Nice "No true Scotsman" you got there.

Vice was once a company that made very interesting documentaries and pieces that no one else did. Today, they seem to be a gang of social justice warriors that is completely out of touch with reality.

Too bad because I used to love Vice documentaries and now I can't stand them at all.

The company culture sounds absolutely toxic, and the leadership team sounds both ill prepared and unethical.

The business part aside, vice news and vice, those programs on hbo, offer very informative, undervalued stories. It would be a pity if that format were gone. Vice coverage may be sometimes sensationalist or activist, but its pros by far outweigh its weaknesses.

They seem to have originally tried to make themselves in the mold of National Lampoon, but someone that actually read the magazine in the 90s could probably comment more on this. I was busy having kids and raising a family, so I didn't get much of a chance to read such content.

Along those lines: if you get a chance, check out "Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead" on Netflix. I was too young and missed the best parts of National Lampoon, watching the later 80s movies mostly and never reading the magazine, but images like "I Survived the Attack of the Krazed Kent Kamikaze Kids" are sheer brilliance.

A closer historical analogue to what Vice has tried to do is probably Rolling Stone. Today Rolling Stone is utterly dispensable, so it can be hard to imagine; but in the '70s it was what Vice so desperately wants to be today, a sort of journal-of-record for youth culture. If you wanted to know where the edge was, Rolling Stone had writers like Lester Bangs and Hunter S. Thompson who could show you.

Or like a combination of Playboy's non-pictural literature with Spy magazine's insider snark.

David Carr of the NYT (RIP David Carr) had some nice words for Vice - http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2011/01/david_carr_puts...

It was great to see him interact with them, here's a video version: https://www.nytimes.com/video/business/100000003509105/page-...

One of the other co-founders, Suroosh Alvi, was interviewed on How I Built This awhile back: https://one.npr.org/?sharedMediaId=547933499:547934223

Wasn't the only reason vice got bought by cnn because zucker's teenage son told his dad "this is where people my age read the news"?

I remember the first time I saw a Vice magazine, back in Vancouver just sitting on the ground in a pile right past the Burrard Street Bridge.

Best media magazine then now an empire.


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