Time Warner’s HBO and upstart content outlet Vice Media will launch a five-day-a-week newscast on the premium cable outlet as part of a new four-year content pact, the two companies said Thursday, the latest signal of growing audience interest in new kinds of news and current-events programming.
Under terms of the deal, HBO will run a daily half-hour “Vice” newscast for 48 weeks per year. The program is likely to launch sometime in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to a person familiar with the agreement. The cable network also gave a four-year extension to Vice’s weekly documentary series and increase the number of episodes to 35 from 14 and committed to airing 32 specials produced by Vice through 2018. The network’s soon-to-launch broadband-delivered HBO Now service will feature a Vice-branded channel that will offer instant access to Vice content to subscribers.
“From the front lines in the Ukraine, to the icebergs of Antarctica and the streets of Ferguson, Vice news has helped illuminate and expand our understanding of an increasingly complex world,” HBO CEO Richard Plepler and HBO programming president Michael Lombardo said in a prepared statement. Vice is led by CEO Shane Smith.
Whether the newscast will serve as a direct competitor to established broadcast-network offerings like NBC’s “NBC Nightly News,” ABC’s “World News Tonight” or CBS’ “CBS Evening News” remains to be seen. An HBO spokesman said details about the time of day the Vice newscast might run were not available. The new show is widely expected to contain shortform dispatches from Vice correspondents around the world, the person familiar with the agreement said. While producers do not anticipate the program serving as a summation of daily headlines, the show could certainly tackle angles related to breaking stories, this person said.
The pact offers another sign of Vice’s ascendance in the media business. Founded in Canada as a punk magazine in the mid-1990s, the company has grown by burnishing “you-are-there” reportage from far-flung regions of the world. The stuff is less varnished than mainstream fare and has proven winning with younger crowds. Vice’s online content is said to attract people largely between 15 and 34. Vice is also a partner with A&E Networks, which in August acquired a 10% stake in the company, reportedly worth $250 million, fueling speculation that Vice might begin programming one of A&E’s cable networks.
“This deal, simply put, allows Vice the freedom to go after any story, anywhere we find it – and to do so with complete independence,” said Smith in a statement. “This deal is a tremendous gift and a tremendous opportunity, and we at Vice realize this.”
HBO has steadily invested more resources in nonfiction programming, to great acclaim. The network’s airing of “The Jinx,” a look at the murky world of real-estate scion Robert Durst, is believed to have contributed to authorities’ decision to arrest him on suspicion of murder. “Last Week Tonight,” a satirical news program led by John Oliver, has garnered attention owing to the amount of research the show’s staff puts into segments on complex topics like native advertising, net neutrality and tobacco-company litigation that can sometimes last longer than some reports on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Bill Maher’s live “Real Time” talk show has long offered a gimlet-eyed view of politics and current events.
“There is a real desire for news, for current events, to resonate in ways that don’t feel pre-packaged, don’t feel canned,” Lombardo told Variety in an interview in October. The executive also said at the time that he did not envision HBO competing with news outlets like NBC News or CNN, but instead favored nonfiction programming as a means of feeding a “huge appetite to be engaged with an opinion, as opposed to being fed facts.” HBO is clearly heaping more on its plate.