Opinion

Can Vice make a virtue of its new TV deal?

The media giant, synonymous with cutting-edge, provocative content, is launching a new channel on traditional television, taking its distinctive editorial voice to the platform. But is this a retrograde step, asks Martin Flavin, creative director, launch marketing specialists Five by Five.

Vice: the platform has launched TV channel Viceland
Vice: the platform has launched TV channel Viceland

Vice doesn’t want to dilute its brand, it already has a compelling identity and point of view in a cluttered market; a reason to exist

At a time when the industry is constantly reminded that Millennials have little interest in traditional media the latest move by Vice could appear, at first glance, distinctly analogue and a conservative strategy for a brand that has always lived close to the edge.

Viceland will run 24/7 on Sky and Now TV, and with shows such as Ellen Page’s Gaycation and F**k That’s Delicious, it retains the brand’s focus on hard-hitting content.

How this challenger brand will translate into the realms of traditional television may be the source of debate, but where Vice goes others, including that elusive Millennial audience, follow. So what does its strategy mean for the industry?

Content trumps platforms

Vice's move reminds us of the importance of being platform agnostic. Research from Ofcom reveals that only half of 16-24 year olds watched live TV. And BBC Three's move to online-only has placed an even greater focus on the notion that linear television is in terminal decline.

However, appointment to view television is alive and well; it's just that many consumers are choosing to make these appointments on their own terms; binge watching has become a mainstream trend. And solid viewing figures for the likes of Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey is a reminder that quality content is still delivering significant audience numbers on traditional television channels.

That is not to say that Viceland will not challenge the status quo; customers who have Sky's advanced set top box Sky Q can also watch a range of Vice's digital content. Vice Media co-founder and CEO Shane Smith has promised to "challenge the accepted norms of current TV viewing".

The power of the brand as a curator

Vice is a brand in the ascendency; it has successfully created a $4bn media empire with its uncompromising, experimental style

Vice is a fantastic brand that knows itself and knows its audience and that gives it the perfect means to launch a TV channel. Vice has become synonymous with fresh and original content and a distinct tone of voice that transcends platforms.

Director Spike Jonze, who has collaborated with the publisher, hinted at what Viceland was trying to achieve when he said that most channels were ‘just a collection of shows’. Vice doesn’t want to dilute its brand, it already has a compelling identity and point of view in a cluttered market; a reason to exist.

All too many brands have been guilty of taking a 'build it and they will come' approach to content without giving consumers a real reason to engage. Vice, however, is a powerful brand with a ready-made fan base that shares its values. It stands in stark contrast to generalists like BBC, ITV, et al or genre-specific channels on satellite TV. Vice is an attitude and that’s what Viceland has going for it.

In an era where we face a deluge of content, the role of trusted brands as curators of this content is increasingly important. The success of Netflix must be in part attributed to its brilliance in tailoring content to its audience through increasingly complex algorithms.

Great storytelling is everything

The launch of Viceland challenges our industry’s insistence on pitting platforms against each other, creating a narrative in which the growth of one platform must automatically signal another's death knell.

Vice is a brand in the ascendency; it has successfully created a $4bn media empire with its uncompromising, experimental style. If Viceland stays true to its uncompromising brand values it is difficult to see how it won’t be a success.