Vice Chief Shane Smith Urges TV Biz to Listen to the Young, Addresses Disney Rumors

EDINBURGH — Vice Media founder and CEO Shane Smith told an audience of British television executives at the Edinburgh Intl. Television Festival Wednesday that creating content that matters to young people is not only good for humankind, but also good for business and good for the future of the industry. He also addressed the M&A frenzy in the media sector that also threatens to sweep up Vice as rumors of a Disney takeover build.

Smith, who was delivering the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture, argued that the media had to respond to the shifting demands of younger audiences. “Baby boomers have had a stranglehold on media and advertising for a generation,” he said. “That stranglehold is finally being broken by a highly educated, ethnically diverse, global-thinking, hard-to-reach generation, and media is having a hard time adapting to this rapid change.”

Smith warned that if media companies fail to change, they run the risk of alienating an entire generation. “Now, we all know that a lot of media is derivative… We just make what has been successful before. The reason why all this chaos in media is happening is because the new audience, the new purchasing power, realizes that vapid and vacuous shit isn’t going to get us to where we need to go,” he said.

To connect with this new generation, Smith urged TV executives to follow media visionary James MacTaggart’s advice when he commented in 1964: “What we need are people who are excited by the possibilities and say ‘The hell with the limitations, we’ll break the rules.’ I think we’ve got far too many damn rules.”

Smith said now was the time to act on this advice. “So let’s break some rules. And here’s a good place to start. Open shit up. Media today is like a private club, so closed that most young people feel disenfranchised. You have to hand it over to the kids.”

At a press briefing earlier in the day, Smith addressed the M&A frenzy sweeping the entertainment sector as traditional media companies consolidate in the face of radically shifting consumption patterns. One of the takeover targets is Vice itself, with Disney reported to be interested in upping its 18% stake. Smith said the prospect was tempting as Disney would preserve Vice’s autonomy.

“If you look at Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm, they all went through the roof after Disney. It’s a great place for brands. They don’t want to make Vice like Disney, they want to give us autonomy, make mistakes and be their laboratory,” Smith said, C21 reported. “And if you can take that money and put it into content, then it makes a lot of sense.”

Smith recalled that Vice was forced by its young audience to evolve dramatically, transforming from a brand that covered sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, to covering important news events, human rights, environmental challenges, criminal justice reform, LGBT issues, and more.

“Now, Gen Y knows what side of history it wants to be on. But where are they getting the media that satisfies these passion points? Now ask yourself, and ask yourself honestly, are we collectively making enough of this? Do we push it? Do we fight for it? I asked myself that question and realized that honestly the answer was no,” he said.

“So we changed our brand from hipsters’ bible talking about rare denim, cocaine and super models to doing environmental programming, social justice, women’s issues, and, of course, music. I’m not stupid. And guess what? Our business grew. Our audience exploded. And we made more money. Which is good because more money means more content.”

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