Time Warner to buy Vice Media stake: why everyone's a hipster these days

Buckle up your braces and start cultivating that beard. Even the big boys are getting into the hipster scene: Time Warner is planning to buy a stake in Vice that would value it at $2bn.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 10 Mar 2016

- Behind the scenes at Vice

Over the past few years, as media has increasingly gone online, one thing has become abundantly clear: the yoof don't read papers any more. They don't read papers, they don't watch news channels, they don't go on traditional news outlet websites.

It's easy to accuse 'millennials' (those born after 1980. MT sincerely promises not to use that term again, ever) of apathy, but there's one company that has proved that's not the point: Vice Media, which has gone from a tiny Montreal-based indie mag in 1994 to a global hipster phenomenon.

It’s taken a while for the big boys to realise quite how valuable Vice and its tribe of skinny jeans-wearing Hunter S Thompson wannabes is, but it looks like they’ve finally got the picture: this morning it emerged that Time Warner, the media megacorp that owns everything from Warner Brothers to HBO, is in the process of buying a stake in Vice which would value it at $2bn. Wowza.

Why is Vice such a big deal in media circles? Having started 20 years ago as a magazine, it is now published in 30 countries, with a TV show on HBO, some of YouTube’s most popular channels and, in the UK, even a pub.

The brand has captured the imagination of the young and laguid, going behind big stories to cover angles others might have missed: how dead Russian soldiers are being repatriated from Ukraine, for example, or the LA gang that claims to be fighting in Syria. Most famously, it took the Harlem Globetrotters to Pyongyang to play against the North Korean basketball team. That it’s managed to entice that younger audience is also probably something to do with the fact the average age of its employees is 26…

Time Warner isn’t the first media giant to realise Vice’s potential: last year, 21st Century Fox bought a 5% stake, valuing it at $1.4bn. Other investors include ad giant WPP, merchant bank Raine, and former Viacom chief executive Tom Freston – so the firm is in good company.

Although it's worth pointing out that, even with its much-valued audience, Vice is still just a media company. Compare, for example, Facebook's buyout of Whatsapp - bought, allegedly, to capture the exact same yoof market as Vice. Whatsapp had 55 employees when it was bought; Vice has about 800. Whatsapp is five years old; Vice is 20. Whatsapp is worth $19bn; Vice is worth $2bn. Compared wth the lucrative world of mobile apps, even trendier-than-thou media seems like a long, hard slog...

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