Vice's TV launch on Sky shows old media still pays

The irreverent media company is moving into traditional TV broadcasting.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 23 Mar 2016

Well, well, well. Millennial favourite Vice Media has announced it’s launching Viceland, a 24-hour TV channel on Sky and Sky’s online streaming service Now TV this September. This’ll form part of an expansion strategy to launch 12 TV channels across Europe over an 18-month period (Viceland is already running in the US and Canada, while Vice has another show on HBO).

That’s not quite right is it? Aren't we supposed to be on a one-way conveyor belt from traditional media to swanky, on-demand streaming services? Mintel recently said UK streaming video subscription revenues were on course to soar from £437m to £1.17bn between 2014 and 2019 as user numbers more than double. Why would Vice, which positions itself as an achingly trendy hotspot for the younger demographic, move into the traditional linear space?

Well, because TV in its long-established form is far from dead and disruption isn’t always a one way street. There can be a tendency to suggest once a trend is identified, that automatically means the old way of doing things is as good as six feet under, but that’s often not the case. Sky after all, generates more than £1bn free cash annually and that comes from subscriptions and ads.

And just look at the recent Amazon news. The ecommerce behemoth has apparently got 400 physical bookshops in the works. It evidently sees something uniquely valuable in the experience bricks and mortar stores can provide. 

Then you have supermarkets branching out to sell more in the way of physical media. That’s in spite of online gaming, digital downloads and streaming services giving rise to proclamations of the impending death of CDs, DVDs and the like. Of course, that’s not to say drooping physical sales will be reversible, but rather that there’s a place for traditional spaces and players while all this disruption takes place.

The closure of The Independent's print operations and BBC Three's much-maligned move to online only have stirred up discussion of whether the general media's move to digital is all but imminent. Vice's move says not. Its bread and butter audience is, after all, the 16-34 age group which is reportedly moving away from linear TV. This tie-up shows it’s not that black and white. Just because younger audiences are moving towards on-demand content doesn’t mean that’s all they’re watching or will watch.

Vice already has commercial links with Sky. Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch, has a 39% stake in Sky and a 5% stake in Vice.

Of course, the success of Vice’s channel remains to be seen – though surely curiosity will be piqued with programming including Gaycation, Weediquette, Balls Deep and F*ck, That's Delicious – a cooking show presented by rapper and former chef Action Bronson. Millennial catnip? We'll soon see.

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