Vice Media, which grew from an alternative culture magazine in Canada to an international cult hit among the 18-34 age range, is growing faster than most other news companies, according to co-founder and CEO Shane Smith. In a recent discussion with Fortune, Smith said “We are growing at 100% a year without our big windfall deals that we are going to be announcing in Q4 or early Q1.” Reuters says the company is worth more than $1.4 billion.
Other than recently earning a newsmagazine show on HBO, Smith attributes most of the success to online. Through their own advertising department, they sign deals with major brands, recently Intel and North Face, to sponsor their video content. Their website has 23 international editions and has about 15 million monthly visitors (in between CNN and NY Times, who have 13 and 18 million monthly uniques, respectively). Their YouTube channel has 3.5 million subscribers and 288.9 million total views.
Rupert Murdoch recently invested $70 million for a 5 percent interest in Vice. The company is going to use Murdoch’s cash and international assets to create TV channels in Asia and Europe, starting in India specifically.
Vice magazine was created in 1994, but the company perhaps gained the most recognition in 2006 with The Vice Guide to Travel, a documentary DVD funded by MTV that features Vice writers exploring dangerous and unusual locations to expose the bizarre living conditions, such as North Korea, Liberia, Pakistan, and many more. The resulting video shows shocking images of absurd cultural practices, namely genocide and enslavement, which couldn’t be adequately depicted in print and wouldn’t ever be accepted from a conglomerate news company.
The videos reflect Vice’s brand of immersion, or gonzo, journalism where the audience is experiencing the story from the reporter’s point of view. They also show a dedication to realism and an indifference toward what is taboo. The same approach is used in the HBO program, which premiered in April and will return next year.
Vice built an audience with their indie magazine, expanded their following online, entered the mainstream through HBO, and now with the help of Rupert Murdoch will try to broaden their presence in Asia and Europe. Legacy media companies have some things to learn from Vice’s way of business.