Believe it or not, VICE, one of the edgiest media brands in the world, was first launched in 1994 as a “punk zine”. Since then, it has since expanded into a leading global youth media company with bureaus in more than 30 countries.
One of the highlights of the recent IAB Digital Video Marketplace was a presentation by Spencer Baim, VICE Media’s Chief Strategic Officer, and Mike Germano, the company’s Chief Digital Officer, entitled, “VICE’s Past, Present, and Future. (Guess What? It’s All About Content)”. It was a look back at lessons from the history of VICE as well as a look around and forward at how VICE is applying those lessons to the way they create and distribute news and current affairs content today and tomorrow.
VICE News: Reaching and Engaging Millennials
Now, I’m not really surprised that VICE has rapidly become the world’s leading youth media company. Specializing in creating, distributing, and monetizing original content globally is a smart strategy. And VICE’s capabilities now stretch into just about every aspect of modern media. Meanwhile, the company’s 360-degree approach ensures that VICE not only creates the content, but that the company also distributes, promotes, and sells it via its network of advertorial sites.
But, I’m shocked, shocked to find is that one of the youth media company’s top properties is VICE News. That’s right, who would have guessed that one of the topics Millennials are most interested in is news!
(Actually, the Pew Research Center recently reported that 61% of online Millennials get political news on Facebook in a given week, a much larger percentage than turn to any other news source. This stands in stark contrast to 60% of internet-using Baby Boomers, for whom local TV tops the list of sources for political news.)
According to Baim, “No one is reporting journalism that speaks to today’s youth. As traditional news audiences are getting older, the dearth of engaging outlets for young people must be filled and we’re here to do just that.”
Now, skeptics would ask, “Isn’t he ignoring popular news satire programs like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report?” Well, to be brutally honest, VICE News isn’t remotely like the “fake news” programs on Comedy Central. The content published on VICE News is real.
For example, the most popular video on the VICE News channel on YouTube is entitled, “The Islamic State (Full Length).” Published on Aug. 14, 2014, this news video has more than 7.4 million views despite being 42 minutes and 31 seconds long.
One of the most recent videos on the VICE News channel on YouTube is entitled, “Why is College So Expensive? – The Business of Life (Episode 6 Trailer).” Published on June 26, 2015, this news video already has more than 17,000 views.
And one of the most commented on videos on the VICE News channel on YouTube is entitled, “Raw Coverage from Ferguson After Grand Jury Decision.” Published on Nov. 24, 2104, this news video has 429,000 views and 39,000 comments.
In fact, the VICE News channel on YouTube describes itself as “an international news channel created by and for a connected generation. Our documentaries and original news series bring you an unvarnished look at some of the most important events of our time, and shine a light on under reported stories around the globe”. There are no smirks or sly winks in either one of those sentences.
VICE News on YouTube: 80% of Audience Under 34 Years Old
Created on Nov. 20, 2013, the VICE News channel on YouTube now has 1,238 videos, 261.6 million views, and 1.4 million subscribers. And according to Tubular Labs data, close to 80% of the channel’s audience is 18-34 years old.
And, according to Tubular data, VICE News also has 571 videos, 50.3 million views, and 1.4 million followers on Facebook; 445,000 followers on Twitter; 40 videos, 107,000 views, and 189,000 followers on Instagram; and 46 videos, 5.9 million views, and 27,000 followers on Vine. And that’s vital for brand visibility, as Baim confirms:
“Working in partnership with leading social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, and boots-on-the-ground youth correspondents, VICE is creating a channel dedicated to global video-driven journalism for young people by young people”.
As we’ve seen, Millennials are attracted to this content. But, although this kind of unvarnished journalism hasn’t been seen for a couple of generations, it isn’t entirely new.
Vice News: Old-school Journalism in the Digital Video Age
In 1948, Douglas Edwards began anchoring a regular 15-minute nightly newscast that was initially called CBS Television News. It aired every weeknight at 7:30 p.m. and people in the TV industry argue that it was the first regularly scheduled, network television news program featuring an “anchor.” Edwards was the first “talking head,” a commentator or reporter on television who addresses the camera and is viewed in close-up. This is the version of TV news that most Baby Boomers still watch.
However, historians would argue that Edward R. Murrow was the most important figure in the early days of television news in the U.S. His weekly news show, See It Now, was a news, magazine and documentary series broadcast by CBS from 1951 to 1958. See It Now focused on a number of controversial issues, but its most memorable moment was a 30-minute special on March 9, 1954, entitled “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy,” which contributed to the eventual political downfall of the senator.
And, I would argue that VICE News isn’t providing a new generation of “talking heads” for Millennials. It’s rediscovered the value of old-school journalism in the digital video age. That why I think VICE News is the legitimate heir of Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now. And that’s why I think the content of VICE News speaks to today’s youth.