Shane Smith’s passport is running out of pages to stamp.
The co-founder and CEO of Vice logged plenty of frequent flier miles this year, given the rapid international expansion of his company, which currently operates in more than 30 countries — a number that is expected to exceed 80 by 2018.
Smith admits the speed at which Vice is crisscrossing the planet has exceeded even his own expectations. “It’s the fastest anyone has ever rolled out TV globally, including MTV, so we’re pretty excited about that,” he says.
The prototype for Vice’s international strategy kicked in with Canada’s Rogers Communications, which signed the company to a $100 million partnership.
That strategy went into overdrive in June at the Cannes Lions festival, where Smith unveiled a more aggressive distribution model that included Australia, India, and the rest of Southeast Asia.
The key to Vice’s global push has been the introduction of Viceland, a cable network launched in U.S. and Canada in February with a full slate of long-form original series, including “Gaycation” and “F*ck That’s Delicious” with the brand’s millennial-friendly irreverence.
The channel launched Stateside in partnership with A+E Networks, which has a stake in Vice along with Disney, 21st Century Fox and others.
“Our plan, when we first started the network, was if we could have a break-even network here in America, would have all of that content for international deals, be it mobile, online or otherwise,” Smith says. “That’s a whole new business model.”
Viceland airs in 25 countries in varying arrangements from licensing deals to branded blocks. But Vice isn’t just focused on TV; the company also has websites and mobile deployments that keep the brand on three different screens that each fetch their own license fees.
“If we can just launch all these territories and marry them to mobile deals, then there’s the next three years of growth for Vice, and it’s exponential growth,” Smith says. “That’s basically the story of what our future is.”
Vice doesn’t just make copies of Viceland for each territory in which the network launches. There’s a mix of content repurposed from the U.S. channel with localized programming more reflective of the market in which it launches, and produced by teams Vice puts on the ground in those markets.
Having a global network of Vice brand extensions also gives the company the ability to offer true scale to marketers seeking international reach.
Vice also translates to non-English-language markets such as French, whether in France via Canal Plus or Quebec via Groupe V Media.
To drive Vice’s international strategy, Smith turns to Viceland Intl. president James Rosenstock. He joined the company in 2015 after a stint at another company with a robust international TV profile, Discovery Communications.
Vice has 30 foreign offices abroad with production, editorial, and sales capabilities. Part of what is driving Vice’s growth is that markets such as Indonesia and Serbia have proportionally massive millennial populations and scant content for just that demographic. “All of these deals aren’t happening because Vice is cool but because they like the content and it resonates,” Smith says.
Smith has also set Vice’s sights on the Middle East via the Moby Group, which he hopes could also be a place that generates interesting content. But that also presents some challenges considering the very meaning of the word Vice there.
“I was talking to some of the people there in the Middle East, who were saying, ‘Surely the name can’t be Vice?’” Smith says. “Obviously the translation is highly politically and theologically charged [there]. To us, it means daily naughty addiction to content.”