HBO-Vice Deal Should Scare the S*** Out of TV News

Shane Smith Vice Evening News
Photo Illustration by Variety

Leave it to an audacious company like Vice Media to strike a ballsy deal with HBO.

The expanded pact announced Thursday between the two companies would have been impressive in its own right were it just contained to their existing weekly series and a whole new channel to be launched as part of the pay cabler’s new a la carte service, HBO Now.

But the doozy of this deal with a new-media dynamo is a decidedly old-media move: creating a daily TV newscast on HBO’s linear channel. While details of what exactly this newscast will be are sparse beyond an expected premiere in the fourth quarter of the year, it’s hard not to interpret this move as an invasion into one of TV’s most sacred wheelhouses: the evening newscast.

Even before Brian Williams’ career went up in flames at NBC last month, the 6:30 p.m. broadcast berth has looked very vulnerable to attack. The aging and dwindling of the audience tuning in at CBS, NBC and ABC has been hurting them for decades, taking along the cultural clout once enjoyed by these flagships for network news divisions.

That clout is what HBO could very well challenge with Vice. It’s not about taking away advertising dollars at a specific half-hour chunk of time, considering HBO is a premium channel. Besides, the demographic for Cialis and Ensure commercials is decades older than the one Vice has targeted with its brash brand of newsgathering.

And that’s why there’s something deliciously disruptive about the HBO-Vice deal. This isn’t about just another player coming to the table; it’s about the prospect of a bona fide game-changer.

The HBO-Vice deal could be the best bet for some entity to come along and reinvigorate the whole notion of being a news brand, and make it relevant to younger audiences in a way that’s not just commercially viable but truly vital to a democracy dependent on an informed citizenry.

That may sound a bit grandiose, but is there anything about Vice that doesn’t scream big ambitions?

There’s no way a maverick like Vice CEO-correspondent Shane Smith is going to approach a daily newscast in any way other than blowing up any conventional notion of what that is. Forget the suit and tie, pack away the anchor desk.

It’s unknown whether Vice is going to train its focus Stateside the same way the company has been approaching stories overseas, but with the presidential election coming up, there’s no better time to make a splash on the domestic front.

In the digital age, the whole notion of launching a daily newscast feels anachronistic to some degree. That’s why what Vice is doing with HBO Now is probably already making CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel nervous.

Netflix execs may also be squirming in their seat right now. It’s doubtful Vice was bidding its services around town as a daily newscast, but this would have been a perfect move for a company that is trying even harder than HBO to position itself in the marketplace as a media revolutionary. Netflix will have to count on disruptive energy from Chelsea Handler, who is clearly being positioned as an alternative to the boys’ club that is latenight TV.

Another company worth wondering about now is Vice’s minority stakeholder, A&E Networks. While the company will benefit from a deal that enhances the value of Vice, did they get a shot at landing any of the content that is going to HBO? Then again, what Vice does may simply not work in the ad-supported environment of basic cable.

This pact is groundbreaking for Vice, and maybe TV news in and of itself. But this could also be a big moment for HBO, as CEO Richard Plepler and programming president Michael Lombardo could be changing the very complexion of the channel. Here a brand built on scripted entertainment excellence is getting more and more news-oriented coming off its success with John Oliver (wouldn’t it be great to see him collaborate with Vice?). As my colleague Brian Steinberg suggested last year, HBO sure seems to be heading in a direction that would necessitate forming a formal news division.

There’s something about the timing of this announcement that feels auspicious. Just after Jon Stewart signals he’s hanging up his cleats, here comes another outfit with the ability to make us rethink news as we know it.

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  1. Jeremy Gukert says:

    Remember when Vice didn’t have a Super Mega Media Conglomerate telling it what to report – those were the days.

  2. David Sanz says:

    Lots of hype language in this article and little to no examples of Vice’s disruption in the market place to support the narrative. Show me don’t tell me.

  3. st. rev. Linda Sue says:

    About time we have a shake up. Real News not politically correct pablem.

  4. The_Realist says:

    This “New Media” “News” was started primarily by TheBlazeTV, great news network, a no bullshit news channel, this I fear will be another MSNBC say anything just to shock you garbage. And John Leibowitz Stewart what ever his name was on Comedy Central was not news it was a comedy talk show.

  5. Jerry Gonzalez says:

    It’s all about content and meeting the challenges of a daily show. And how deep are their pockets? Looking forward to seeing their Gamechanger newscast or soon to be known as RealityBites.

  6. We shall see. Sounds like a daily podcast with a nice budget.
    It’s on a pay to view platform yes?

  7. Bryan says:

    Maybe now Vice can pay their employees above the poverty line.

  8. Todd Everett says:

    So how does Bill Maher figure into this? He brought Vice to HBO in the first place.

  9. Kelly Carlin says:

    Isn’t TYT – Cenk Unger’s network – The Young Turks doing this already? They have a daily newscast and a YouTube channel with over a million subscribers. That looks pretty disruptive to me.

  10. that one guy says:

    i wish i was a hip 68 year old. Being 26 is so stressful…!

  11. Contessa46 says:

    As a hip 68 yr old, I welcome SOME REAL NEWS!!!! Network news is NOT! Sometimes I have to sit in the car and listen to NPR or BBC to find out what’s going on in our world. You will sweep the ratings with very little effort. And pleeeeze–don’t ever say the words “Breaking news.”

  12. Warren says:

    as long as you give us the real news and not your BS Biased version. The news should not be left or right and not acted out by voice pitch changes, just tell us the truth. I think Walter would be glad to see this as the people did not leave the networks, the networks left them!

  13. Rob says:

    Shane I love your show, love everything you do, this is going to rock the very foundation of what people think the news is

  14. Dee says:

    This is great for those of us and I suspect there are many who are fed up with the 24 hour news cycle with “know it all” pundits lobbying for time slots. It’s overkill. VICE does not pull punches and it’s format is so much more refreshing than the celebrity driven news that is pushed on major networks, CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Maybe it will motivate some of those folks to get back into real news and out of the “news as entertainment business.” Maybe we’ll even see the end of Hannity and O’Reilly clown shows when challenged with facts over ideology. One can hope.

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