Vice founder warns of fast and frightening media revolution


There is a fast and frightening revolution happening in media, that will get ugly, but is necessary to go forward, the founder and chief executive of Vice has claimed.

An ethnically diverse and hard-to-reach Generation Y has broken the baby boomers' grip on the industry, but media must now adapt to their needs, Shane Smith said as he delivered the 2016 James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

Mr Smith, who opened his speech saying: "I would like to warn everyone I've had a few ales, we are about to get spicy," said there would be a seismic change to both new and old media, and called on companies to give young consumers meaningful content about the social issues that are important to them.

He told the audience at the Edinburgh Playhouse that mainstream media companies would consolidate through mergers and the takeover of new media platforms.

He said: "In the long term it means a changing playing field, a mild to medium dose of chaos, and a fast-moving, ever-shifting, highly-volatile marketplace, in which only the most nimble and dynamic companies will survive.

"Due to this fact, there are going to be a lot fewer content sites, as many as 30% will go away this year, or merge, or sell, and anyone with half a brain in digital is making strategic alliances to have a war chest ready to weather the storm."

He added: "There will be fewer mainstream media players, fewer new media and an M&A frenzy."

Mr Smith told delegates: "There is a revolution going on in media. And it's scary, and it's fast, and it's going to be ugly. But it's also totally necessary to keep going forward. Change has never been more important, never so crucial, especially in our industry."

He said these companies must now change to cater to the younger generation who are consuming media on multiple screens and are under-served by existing products.

Referring to his own youth brand, he said: "We do a lot of research on our hundreds of millions of users and found their passion points are music, the environment, civil rights, income inequality, social justice and LGBT issues.

"Gen Y knows what side of history it wants to be on. But where are they getting the media that satisfies these passion points? Now ask yourself, and ask yourself honestly, are we collectively making enough of this?

"Do we push it? Do we fight for it? I asked myself that question and realised that honestly the answer was no. So we changed our brand from hipsters' bible, talking about rare denim, cocaine and supermodels, to doing environmental programming, social justice, women's issues and, of course, music. I'm not stupid.

"And guess what? Our business grew. Our audience exploded. And we made more money. Which is good because more money means more content.

"It doesn't have to be boring or ugly, it can be exciting and beautiful but there has to be depth to it." 

He urged the crowd: "So let's break some rules. And here's a good place to start. Open shit up. Media today is like a private club, so closed that most young people feel disenfranchised. You have to hand it over to the kids."

He said young people must shoot, cut and host content because they offer a language and tone that cannot be faked.

He said: "This is the smartest, most educated, most savvy generation in history, they have the most sophisticated bullshit detector in history and the only way to avoid it is to not bullshit.

"The problem is giving 10 million dollars to a 23-year-old straight out of school. Who is going to do that?

"Well because I'm a high-functioning alcoholic with a strong taste for psychedelics, we do do that.

"Sometimes that 23-year-old ends up in Mexico City with my production budget, but in most cases we end up with gold."

At a press briefing earlier in the day, Mr Smith said one of the reasons for the success of Vice, which started as a punk magazine in Canada, was because of the mainstream media's desire to avoid chasing ratings.

He accused one American news network of "colluding" with presidential candidate Donald Trump for the sake of viewing figures, saying: "There has been a failure in mainstream media. If you look at Trump, Trump gives you ratings. The collusion between CNN and Trump is the perfect example of what is wrong in media today."