Viceland – an update
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Viceland an update

Earlier this year, Frame 25 looked at the emergence of Red Bull and Vice Media, two young, disruptive media companies.

While Red Bull is now available via the Online Video section of Sky Q , Viceland has launched as a traditional linear TV channel.

One month on, how is Vice Media’s new channel performing?


VICELAND – the backstory

Overseen by director Spike Jonze, whose work includes Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, and backed by Fox, Disney and advertising giant WPP (with A+E Networks holding an ownership stake), the US version of Viceland launched in February 2016.

The company describes itself as the ‘world’s pre-eminent youth media company and content creation studio’. Viceland, meanwhile, promotes itself as a channel ‘for and by young people curious about life right now’, according to the UK channel’s Facebook page.

Featuring a schedule based on documentaries and unscripted programming, the 24-hour channel – whose high-definition playout and distribution is handled by Babcock – made its entrance in the UK market as the first phase of its global expansion, forming part of an aggressive goal to extend Vice Media’s presence to more than 40 countries.

Its UK-focused programmes include…

  • Factual series Big Night Out, in which Clive Martin explores underground party scenes across Europe
  • Needles & Pins, an exploration of global tattoo culture hosted by Grace Neutral
  • Hate thy Neighbour, featuring Jamali Maddix, a mixed-race Briton who spends time with a far-right group in Sweden, in a Louis Theroux-style documentary.

According to Alex Miller, creative director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Viceland UK is “the most original and important TV channel for young people in the country”.

So, having made a move directly opposite that of BBC Three, which shifted from linear TV channel to online-only – and targeting the same demographic – how is Viceland performing?

Is it able to capture some of that audience? Does that demographic even watch linear TV in sufficient numbers anymore to make Viceland viable?

VICELAND – availability

While the US offering is broadcast across numerous cable providers (including Time Warner, Bright House Networks and DirecTV), UK viewers have only two options:

  1. Sky, on EPG slot 153, surrounded by channels with low (and diminishing) footfall and relying on acquired – rather than original – programming (Sky customers also get on-demand access to the first episode of selected series 24 hours before their linear premiere)
  2. Non-Sky customers can watch the channel via streaming service NOW TV, which gives users contract-free access but only on demand, not live, alongside other Sky channels, with the Entertainment Month Pass (priced at £6.99 a month)

Above: selected channels available with NOW TV’s Entertainment Month Pass

Tattoo artist-turned-documentarian Neutral and comedian-turned-documentarian Maddix, both 25, present series which differ from the existing programming that makes up the majority of the UK’s youth TV offering, such as E4’s Tattoo Fixers or TruTV’s Tattoo Nightmares.

VICELAND – the launch

Viceland – Vice Media’s first UK channel – launched on Monday 19 September with The Viceland Census, a one-off film exploring young people’s attitudes towards politics, drugs, sex, crime and food.

But have the initial buzz and hype converted into a decent audience for the channel?

During the channel’s first few hours, ratings peaked at an estimated 17,200 viewers. commented:

Data from the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (Barb) studied by Enders Analysis indicates that the UK channel only managed to reach a peak audience of 14,000 during 9pm to 11pm in its first two weeks of broadcast.

Further research shows that during the same time on other nights, when Viceland launched new shows like Big Night Out, the network attracted the dreaded zero audience figure – meaning that less than 1,000 people tuned in to watch.

The data comes at a fairly early time in Viceland’s lifespan, but the research has also indicated that its opening night achieved just an average of 5,500 viewers between 8pm and 2am.

A spokesman for Vice UK said:

Judging a new channel on its ratings when it’s just out of the blocks is extremely premature.

Looking at Viceland in the US after six months, the average audience age dropped by nearly 20 years, its audience is growing week by week, and our programming is Emmy nominated.

In the coming months we expect to mirror the same success here in the UK as well.

Are these disappointing viewing figures worth Vice Media worrying about?

VICELAND – the argument against

In an article titled ‘Vice TV is a con’, The Spectator suggested that “Viceland claims to be the channel for millennials but for all its much-vaunted rebel soul, its best shows would not look out of place in a late-night slot on either BBC2 or Channel 4.”

‘A 14k audience is, quite plausibly, a dog licking the remote’

I’m laughing at Vice and I’m not the only one…

..says one online commenter.

Their expectation for this channel was several orders of magnitude higher than what was realistic to expect. At the audiences they are getting they will struggle to sell advertising space, let alone generate any revenue, and they aren’t going to receive much money for carriage rights. I recognise that part of the purpose of Viceland is to promote the main “news” outlet (i.e. increase awareness of Vice in the UK) but these numbers are still comically bad.

Every Barb panel member is worth around 6,000 people, and in a Barb household you have a remote that tells the Barb box who is watching the television (so 3 people watching = 18k people approx). A 14k audience is quite plausibly a dog licking the remote.

Here’s a fun stat: in households with Sky TV, the channel replaced Pick +1 in the channel line-up. Pick+1 broadcasts Pick (a free-to-air channel that Sky runs that broadcasts old Sky content and doesn’t have any new shows or real programming budget) on a 1-hour delay. Viceland is doing smaller numbers than Pick+1.

VICELAND – the case for the defence

Labelling Viceland as ‘a con’ and highlighting its poor figures just a few weeks after launching, could, it may be argued, be doing the fledgling channel a disservice.

Vice Media has a strong background when it comes to original programming, earning eight Emmy nominations since 2013 which have produced two wins, and the new channel’s virtues are praised by, which asks: “Why is nobody watching Viceland TV?

Describing the channel as “plucky, funny and brilliantly informative” the article’s author, Rachel Cooke, suggests:

Here is a pretty fast-flowing stream of groovy ideas, built for the enjoyment and improvement of millennials everywhere. It doesn’t half put the new home of The Great British Bake Off to shame.

Kevin Sutcliffe, Viceland’s senior vice-president of TV and video, said:

Yes, you could pick individual shows and say, ‘That could appear on that channel’ or ‘This could appear on this channel’. The point is, they’re not on those channels. They’re on Viceland, in primetime.

…and Miller added:

Over the past decade, Vice has been making game changing video content on the internet and in doing so, transformed the way people make shows about food, news, fashion, culture, tech and more.

Just as we changed the way everyone thought about online video, Viceland will change the way we think about a TV channel. We’re launching with a slate that we think fulfils our goal: to make Viceland the most original and important TV channel for young people in the country.

This is a new TV channel with a personality and a point of view. We want this channel to feel like it came from real people who really care, and we want it to feel special to viewers who watch it. We can’t wait for people to tune in.

We will grow over time.

Or will they be acquired by Disney?