a blog, newsletter, and kaleidoscope notebook about politics, the media, and culture
by tom bunting, a Real Journalist

This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.

Vice News’ post-HBO future comes into focus

September 25, 2019 7:37 PM
This is some text inside of a div block.

Yesterday, Showtime announced that it was picking up Vice’s weekly docuseries, which originally aired on HBO before getting cancelled earlier this year. Despite middling early reviews when it premiered in 2013, the newsmagazine went on to win multiple Emmys throughout its run. The 13-episode seventh season will premiere on Showtime next spring.

A few months after its breakup with its main distributor HBO, Vice is realigning its news division with projects produced with both external partners and other divisions within the company.

  1. This new show on Showtime, which will be a weekly newsmagazine that consists of one to two documentary-style segments an episode.
  2. Vice News Tonight’s relaunch on Vice’s own cable channel Viceland. Vice says it will premiere “soon”, and an absolutely bonkers story from New York Magazine reports that it will cover Viceland’s entire three hour prime time lineup. (The HBO iteration lasted less than a half hour most nights.)
  3. Vice News Dot Com, which recently (and quietly!) got folded into the Vice Dot Com mothership. While Vice News’ content now exists alongside Vice’s other verticals, it continues to expand its original reporting efforts and is in the midst of aggressively staffing up for the 2020 election.
  4. A still unannounced project with Hulu. Originally this show was promoted by Vice leadership to staff as a replacement project for the newsmagazine. An official announcement never came after initial leaks in February, although that recent New York Magazine article confirmed the show was still coming. Presumably, it would be well into production by now. Except an announcement soon.

As a certified Vice News Tonight Stan, this new strategy gives me some amount of optimism. Relying on multiple partners for funding while building out their own internal platforms seems like a winning strategy for a media company with a large audience but shaky financial standing in 2019. While Showtime and Hulu lack the prestige of HBO, they certainly aren’t as unreliable as, say, a Facebook or Twitter. And I’ve been mostly encouraged by Vice’s efforts to rebuild their digital operations under Katie Drummond. (The amount of talent heading to Vice right now is pretty wild.)

The real open question is the show on Viceland. Moving from half an hour to three hours a night without a substantial investment into building the kind of team needed to support that jump is insane. In fact, Vice News Tonight seems to be doing the opposite; star reporters Arielle Duhaime-Ross and Elle Reece have jumped ship to Vox and CNN respectively. (Reeve’s departure is especially painful; her reporting on Charleston was VNT’s one real breakout moment.) New York reports that the expanded lineup may lean heavily into talking heads and roundtables, an easy way to fill up time but an approach vastly less interesting than the old HBO show. All of this is also happening on Viceland, which is (somehow) profitable but completely inconsequential in every other way.

A last note on what this may mean for Vice’s future: an item in Vanity Fair from earlier this summer raised the idea of a CBS/Viacom buyout of Vice. Apparently, Nancy Dubuc (Vice’s new CEO) was immensely interested in the proposition, as were some forces over at CBS, including Shari Redstone. Someone uninterested in the idea was historic Vice skeptic Bob Bakish, the current CEO of Viacom and the incoming leader of a merged CBS-Viacom. That deal hasn’t closed yet, but CBS’s pickup of Vice on Showtime may suggest a newfound willingness on Bakish’s part. At the very least, it means that Dubuc and her New Vice still have supporters at CBS.

Vice News’ post-HBO future comes into focus