NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It'd be easy to dismiss Vice as a cultish niche title -- a street-smart youth-culture magazine with a famously ribald editorial sensibility. But a growing number of major players -- including CNN, which this spring partnered with Vice's online broadcast offshoot, VBS.tv -- are recognizing that the ultimate glossy outsider has quietly spawned a global media empire while becoming an unlikely journalistic powerhouse.
Headquartered in New York since 1999 (it was born in Canada as Voice of Montreal in 1994, then rebranded in 1996), Vice is published in 24 editions distributed in 27 countries, with worldwide circulation of 1.1 million. It is the first primarily free magazine to make Ad Age's A-List (paid subs aside, Vice is mostly distributed at boutiques, bookstores and other hot spots in urban areas).
That CNN deal, which puts VBS content on CNN.com, is recognition of Vice's unwavering devotion to global reporting. In print, hands-on co-founders Suroosh Alvi and Shane Smith, together with editor in chief Jesse Pearson, somehow manage to comfortably interweave hard-hitting reports from Afghanistan and Uganda with outré fashion spreads and sassy pop-cultural coverage. Think Rolling Stone in its heyday crossed with Tibor Kalman–era Colors crossed with a cracked-out National Geographic. On VBS.tv, led by creative director Spike Jonze (of "Being John Malkovich" and "Where the Wild Things Are" fame), you can click from a report on the gun markets of Pakistan to a show called "Skate Europe." The site got 2.2. million U.S. visitors in August, according to ComScore.
Once (and still) known for its ads from edgy street-fashion labels, Vice increasingly also pulls in major marketers like Nike, Diesel, HBO and Levi's. And this year, Vice launched The Creators Project, a co-branded effort with Intel. "It's a new global initiative to identify leading artists who are pushing creative boundaries through technology," explains Smith.
The empire of cool has also spawned record label Vice Music, Vice Films, Vice Books and Virtue Worldwide, a 50-person communications agency.