WPP took a stake in Vice last year, and this year turned out in
force to help the Brooklyn-based media company throw a big party
for advertisers -- its version of TV's annual ritual known as an
"upfront" -- just a block from Wall Street .
Vice showed off its array of its 2012 web programming lineup,
including Vice Style, Vice Comedy, and food show Munchies (60 web
shows in all), as well as its deepening ties to old media.
For example: Vice announced a coming news channel, and told the
audience it would be produced in partnership with Bloomberg. Asked
for details of this, a Vice spokesman walked it back a bit -- this
was a boozy affair, after all. It's not a partnership just yet but
talks, which probably explains why Bloomberg Media Networks CEO
Andy Lack was briefly in the audience. Vice has distribution
agreements with CNN and other news outlets.
But there were other media deals. Vice will produce a show with
the Ultimate Fighting Championship dedicated to the culture of
ultimate fighting and other pugilistic pursuits around the globe.
It's also producing an upcoming series with Bill Maher for HBO and
a feature-length documentary with Snoop Dog, "Reincarnated," set
for a fall release.
Lots of shows and, thanks to WPP, lots of partnerships with
advertisers like GE, Intel, Nike , Red Bull and Heineken. Mr.
Sorrell said WPP had $250 million in content deals in the pipeline,
all with marketers that want to create content with Vice, much like
it did with Intel for "The Creators Project" series. "Vice is the
way to access youth markets around the globe and that is of vital
importance to all our clients," the WPP chief said.
Adviser Mr. Freston said the company's revenue is doubling this
year and that it's "very profitable today."
In case you're wondering, Vice has become quite a big media
company, with 800 employees and well over $100 million in revenue,
according to an excellent profile in Forbes
magazine received its first nomination for a National Magazine
Award this year, although it lost to Bloomberg Businessweek at a
ceremony held at the same time as the Vice upfront on Thursday
Unlike Viacom's empire, built on equal parts advertising and
cable subscription fees, Vice is almost all ad-supported, a model
that 's workable for the company. "There is nobody producing this
much video of good quality with web economics," Mr. Freston, an
investor, said. "TV is still going to be a strong player but it is
going to get nibbled around the edges."
Maintaining its edge while making content palatable for the big
global brands that pay its bills is a bit of a tightrope walk for
Vice. Brands are also walking a tightrope: how to connect with a
generation increasingly hard to reach through TV.
"Their audience is quite large [and] it is very elusive so there
is a huge market for it," said Group M CEO Irwin Gotlieb. "That's
fundamentally what they have working for them."