You know Bombardier. Cirque du Soleil. Roots. The NHL, sorta.
There are a long list of Canadian once-startups that have gone onto become major international brands and corporations, often influencing the world and not even stereotypically so – not everything has to be maple syrup-based or covered in beaver tails.
But in the media game, a dominion long dominated by what’s deemed to be cool in Hollywood and New York, the hottest ticket for several years now has been VICE – a former alt magazine in Montreal turned into a positively anti-everything, 35-and-under informational institution.
And on Thursday, VICE and its co-founder Shane Smith announced another earthquake. The company will partner with HBO, where it already has a weekly news show, to launch a ‘daily VICE newscast’ and run it through 2018.
“This deal, simply put, allows VICE the freedom to go after any story, anywhere we find it – and to do so with complete independence,” said Smith, in a release on VICE’s website. “This deal is a tremendous gift and a tremendous opportunity.”
“Together with HBO, we will expand our news offerings to viewers everywhere, creating HBO’s first-ever daily newscast, producing hard-hitting specials, like our recent Special Report on cancer, and expanding our weekly news round-ups from around the world.”
What’s made a formerly miniature magazine into the world’s most desired, maybe influential, certainly leading source of news for the Wanderlost Generation?
Quite simply, their content. And their willingness to produce and air that content. And to go places you wouldn’t go – to places your spray-tanned Iowa local anchor wouldn’t go.
Your normal TV news is littered with international conflicts and segments on drug trades or religion or any other poisons. But it’s neutered – watch NBC or ABC, CNN or FOX, CTV or Global, you’ll often get a PG’d piece of coverage. You’ll get something you can watch over dinner, with a sign-off that includes feel-good stories and something that’s easy to digest.
The news, as it’s existed for a very long time in the mainstream, is meant to make you feel like you’re reading, but not disturb you. Because that is, really, what a lot of people do want – there are people who say, ‘The news is depressing’ and complain about it, and the networks listen.
But very few things VICE covers – eating dogs, cocaine and faith in the Amazon, or interviews with real-life drug producers in Colombia – are watered down or shoehorned for your mother’s peace of mind.
I have personally applauded them for this, full disclosure, after watching their in-depth reporting from Colombia last year. And I’m late to VICE’s party – I was years late actually, and didn’t really discover their online rabbit hole of never-before-seen stuff until friends clued me in.
VICE’s following isn’t just dedicated. Now, it’s massive.
The company has over 1.2 million Facebook followers, just on its News page, and almost 4,000,000 followers on its wider VICE Facebook page. Plus over 900,000 on Twitter, and nearly 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube.
(If you’re uninitiated, by the way, YouTube will be your taste to what VICE’s daily news show could look like – a magazine on-camera, with creative pulled from the places nobody travels to.)
I imagine most broadcasters are overwhelmed by VICE, when they recognize it as competition, even if they pretend to deride it by calling it filth or vulgar, or whatever they might (and it’s certainly vulgar, proudly it seems). Because Smith and Co. only have to publish something and Tweet it or post it to Facebook, or toss it out anywhere on the group’s dominant social sphere, and a million people will have seen it by the time any one of America’s national anchors sit down in their 6 o’clock chairs.
VICE has spent a long time creating and cultivating this universe. And it’s clear, there’s always been appetite for their product – appetite that’s only added foam around the mouth in the past 20 years, as the Internet tears away networks’ layers.
Whereas maybe you used to be dissatisfied with Cronkite or the New York Times, but you didn’t have anywhere else to turn… well, now you’ve got a ton of options.
“Brian Williams’ lie about the helicopter? That didn’t destroy his credibility with me,” Bill Maher said recently, across the lot on HBO’s Friday night show Real Time. “10 years of wasting precious news time on bullsh*t stories about car chases and bears in a swimming pool and store clerks fighting back and returning soldiers surprising their kids at the big game and powerball jackpots and that stupid fu**ing Spanish tomato fight, that’s what destroyed his credibility with me.”
In other words, trivial stuff.
“Delivering the news is a sacred responsibility,” Maher continued. “It’s telling us the important things we need to know. It shouldn’t be a race to the bottom, over who can attract more eyeballs with titillation.”
VICE has decided to aim its cameras at the same themes the big guys do, but it shifts the focus to the people nobody’s talking to – either because they’re in the background, or they’re scary or evil, like the Colombian cocaine producers VICE profiled last July.
HBO already knows this, and their experiment with VICE is heading to a third season and has hauled in critical acclaim. Rogers has clued in, too – the Canadian broadcaster signed a deal with VICE last October to produce a 24-hour national news channel with Smith, which will air sometime in 2015.
It’s great news for VICE, decent news for viewers. Of course, when the announcement was made, the excitement was watered down by buzzwords meant to court advertisers:
“The new Toronto studio, which will operate under VICE’s creative direction, will be dedicated to producing the very best Canadian content for mobiles, tablets, computers and TV screens and will be exported around the world.”
Gadgets, gadgets, gadgets.
And on Thursday, after the news broke of HBO’s new VICE show, Fortune titled their story ‘HBO courts millennials by doubling down on VICE TV content’.
Nice try, but it’s not just millenials – the under-30s our retiring class like to call entitled – who are into VICE. It’s actually everyone, and there’ll be more of them now that they’re all over your TV and we’re getting a ‘pick-and-pay’ system.
VIDEO: VICE, Rogers create TV studio (BC Daily Buzz)