Dubuc was pressed in Q&A with Dealbook chief Andrew Ross Sorkin about the health of the company and the role of founder and current chairman Shane Smith in the operations of the company.
“Not so much,” Dubuc said when pressed by Sorkin about Smith’s involvement. “I run the show.” She noted that he send her a lot of text messages. “It’s usually him saying ‘Yes Nancy,’ ” she added.
Dubuc noted that Vice achieved profitability a few years ago but then went back into the red as it invested in the launch of the linear Viceland cable channel and international expansion initiatives. Pressed for a timeline by Sorkin, Dubuc said “very, very quickly it will be profitable again.”
Dubuc emphasized that Vice is not on the block right now, which means that questions about how far the company’s valuation may have fallen in the past few months was not relevant. Vice was valued at $5.7 billion in June 2017 when it received a $450 million investment from TPG.
“Valuation only matters if you’re for sale and we’re not for sale right now,” Dubuc said.
The TPG investment came with strings that could wind up turning debt into equity in Vice starting in about 18 months if the company is unable to reach selected fiscal target. Dubuc said her goal is to “have the free cash flow to manage that.”
Dubuc also stressed that Vice is more than strictly a digital media company. The perception that Viceland has been a flop is wrong but she acknowledged it is having distribution challenges in the U.S.
“We’re still growing,” she said. “We don’t really get much credit for that. She pointed to the decisions by large MVPDs such as Comcast to offer Viceland on a pricy tier rather than in the low-cost packages that would appeal most to Viceland’s youthful target audience. “They tier us to the most expensive packages which makes no sense,” she said.
In addition to Viceland, Vice’s strategy in content distribution remains to be a supplier to numerous platforms rather than to create its own streaming offering. Vice’s work with HBO and others has greatly expanded its reach and profile. Her focus is on revving up the “flywheel” to better exploit Vice-produced content across its digital, TV, advertising and publishing platforms.
“We’re not in the TV business just to be in the TV business. We’re in the TV business as part of an eco- system,” she said. “There’s a great opportunity to be in service as a content creator for all of these platforms (rather) than to put a wall around ourselves just for a few million customers.”