The kings of capitalism keep rewarding the imps at Vice Media for their transgressions against societal and media norms with rising market valuations. Starting with a wee, free counter-culture magazine in Montreal in 1994, the ageless boys behind Vice soon barnstormed Canada with their title and by 1999 were international and ensconced in New York.
Peddling outré features such as the “Vice Guide to Surviving in Prison,” “A Brief History of the Dildo,” and “Held Hostage in Burma by Teenagers,” Vice has warmed the blood of its young male readership with the hardboiled and sensational in print, online and video. Back in 2000, the Montreal Gazette pegged the rising magazine’s worth at $500,000 and the whole operation, online included, at $4 million.
Not long before the dotcom bubble ruptured, Vice Media co-founder, chief executive officer, and lead transgressor Shane Smith speculated that his company’s worth had grown to $40 million. In 2007, Smith revised the value of his burgeoning multimedia-conglomerate to “a shitpile,” and from that compost the company’s worth has ballooned. It was likely worth $1 billion, said Forbes in 2012, and this week the New York Times reckons it stands somewhere between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion.
The value of Vice Media, as the many articles registering its success will tell you, is not solely based on revenues, which the Times reports are expected to top $500 million this year, nor its ongoing deal for a Vice TV show with HBO. What has attracted Rupert Murdoch, Time Warner, and Disney to Vice is the company’s potential to be another “multiplatform MTV,” as the Times puts it, with youth appeal, an idea that MTV co-founder and current Vice investor/advisor Tom Freston has surely cultivated among New York moneybags media. Beyond its in-house ad unit and corporate partnerships, Smith envisions a 24-hour global news channel for Vice, and don’t bet against him getting it. It will be like Animal Planet, only populated with wild people.
The expanding niche that Vice now rules — frank and exploitative takes on drugs, murder, sex, war, jail, violence, disaster and the crazed — has attracted substantial audiences since the invention of media in the 16th century, when lurid murders in France could find enthusiastic readers in English newspapers. Everybody loves monsters and the monstrous from afar, and young men being young men, have always desired a closer look at filth, chaos and danger — which is one reason they can be reliably talked into entering battle.