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It’s been a bit of a bumper year for Shane Smith. The kingpin of Vice Media – the self-professed anarchic alternative to media conglomerates like Fox and Time Warner – Smith has found himself sharing one thing, at least, with those tyrannical founders: he is now a billionaire.
In June of this year, a $450 million investment from private equity firm TPG pumped Vice to a valuation of $5.7 billion, pushing Smith into the Three Comma Club overnight. Now, with rumours of an IPO circling the entertainment empire and threatening to take this whole crazy game public, we chart the rise and rise of an unlikely media baron.
1994: Smith, along with co-founders Suroosh Alvi and Gavin McInnes (who left VICE in 2008), acquires the youth magazine Voice of Montreal. The magazine is part-funded by a grant from the distinctly un-punk Canadian Government.
1996: The team changes the magazine’s name to the much-more provocative and appealing Vice, partly for legal reasons (the trio quickly fell out with the magazine’s publisher) and partly because they like the sound.
1999: The magazine is acquired by Canadian software millionaire Richard Szalwinski,who relocated the operation to New York City. Under Szalwinski’s ownership, the title quickly develops a reputation for highly-provocative, anarchic and politically incorrect content. In the company’s first year in New York, a few Vice retail stores are opened in New York City where customers can buy branded merchandise and items advertised in the magazine.
2001: The dot-com bubble bursts, and Szalwinski looks to sell the company. He finds willing buyers in co-founders Smith, Alvi and McInnes. The Vice-themed stores are closed.
2002: The magazine rapidly expands its publishing scope. The most notable new territory is the UK, where Andy Capper is installed as the first editor. Capper begins to set the tone for the magazine’s gonzo, no-holds-barred style: “We write about the things we’re meant to be ashamed of” he says. Soon, Smith has expanded Vice into five continents.
2006: On the advice of newly installed creative director Spike Jonze – he of Being John Malkovich and Jackass fame – Smith begins expanding Vice’s reach into digital video. The first incarnation is a new video service called VBS.tv, a joint venture with MTV. The new content distills the essence of the magazine into a raft of popular, cult titles, such as The VICE Guide To Travel, Epicly Later’d, and Toxic. The documentaries on the channel feature non-traditional subjects, approached with a quasi-journalistic and low-fi feel. Tellingly, several of them are hosted by the founders themselves.
2007: Smith begins an aggressive media expansion at Vice, launching new online-only channels such as Motherboard (a tech title) and Noisey (a music channel). Smith also develops a collaboration with Intel called The Creators Project, which sees Vice work hand-in-hand with an established corporation for the first time.
2012: As Vice grows bigger, Smith turns the focus to current events, and the bloated status quo. Vice’s documentaries become more rigorous and journalistic, positioning the upstart as an alternative to the established media mills.
2013: Smith’s punk credentials are tested seriously for the first time, when Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox invests $70 million in VICE Media, in return for a 5% stake. Responding to comments that Vice had sold out, Smith says: “We have set ourselves up to build a global platform but we have maintained control.” Later on, Vice’s move into the mainstream is complete, when its media arm premiers a 30-minute news program on HBO, executive produced by Bill Maher.
2014: Vice’s news show wins a Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Series or Special. The success prompts Vice to launch its own dedicated news channel, VICE News. Almost immediately it makes the headlines itself, when it breaks the story of gathering conflict and protest in both Venezuela and Ukraine. In October, the leader of the BBC’s Newsdesk claims the organization is “playing catch-up” to VICE News.
In July, Vice announces a high-profile move to a giant warehouse space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The renovation of the 60,000 square foot office costs $20 million. The new space means Vice can now produce a great deal of its content in house.
2015: Smith announces Viceland, a Netflix-esque alternative cable network.
2017: Smith goes social. Vice announces a huge expansion on its original programming deal with Snap Inc, the owner of Snapchat.
Later in the year, Vice is valued at $5.7 billion dollars. Smith officially comes a billionaire. An IPO is teased. And the commentators speculate that the best is yet to come.