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A+E Networks Chief Nancy Dubuc in Talks to Become CEO of Vice Media (EXCLUSIVE)

UPDATED: In a surprise move, A+E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc is in advanced talks to take over the chief executive role at Vice Media from the company’s co-founder, Shane Smith. Abbe Raven, the longtime A+E executive who retired in 2015, has been tapped to lead the cable company for an interim period until a successor is named. 

Dubuc would take the reins of Vice Media at a time of both turmoil and growth for the high-flying digital media venture that has attracted investments from Disney, Fox, and private equity giant TPG. A+E Networks is a partner with Vice in the Viceland cable channel, which has struggled to draw large audiences since its March 2016 debut. 

Reps for Vice Media and A+E Networks declined comment on Dubuc’s possible move to Vice.  But A+E and its parent companies, Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., issued a statement Monday confirming Dubuc’s departure.

“In her roughly 20 years at A+E Networks, Nancy played a major role in building the success of A&E, History and Lifetime, and we thank her for her leadership,” read a statement from Disney/ABC Television Group chief Ben Sherwood and Hearst CEO Steven Swartz. “We are also very grateful to Abbe, a former CEO of the company and one of A+E’s first employees, for agreeing to return on a temporary basis as acting chair.”

Dubuc said in a statement that she was preparing for “my next dare and my next challenge,” but did not reference her talks with Vice. During the interim period, A+E Networks chief operating officer and CFO David Granville-Smith and Paul Buccieri, president of A+E Networks Portfolio Group and A+E Studios, will oversee operations. Both will report to Raven.

Vice Media has dismissed several high-ranking executives following scrutiny of its corporate culture and sexual harassment allegations from staffers. Vice has also fallen short of its 2017 financial projections by about $100 million, according to a report earlier last month by the Wall Street Journal. Shane Smith, Vice Media’s colorful leader, has been CEO since the company’s inception as an underground music and culture magazine in Montreal in 1994. Dubuc has developed a good relationship with Smith through their work together on Viceland.

On the plus side, 2017 marked the best year in Vice’s history in terms of revenue and consumption of its programming on its digital and mobile platforms. Viceland posted year-over-year ratings growth compared to 2016. The company is continue its aggressive expansion outside North America.

Dubuc has spent the past five years as CEO of the cable channel group that is home to A&E Network, History, Lifetime, and FYI, among other channels. A+E Networks, jointly owned by Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., has long been one of TV’s most profitable enterprises but in the past few years its sails have been trimmed amid the sector-wide challenges facing the traditional cable TV business. The company’s core channels — A&E, History and Lifetime — have struggled with programming issues and the swings programming shifts amid the broader sector-wide disruption rocking the traditional TV industry. A&E and History, however, during the past 18 months have gained traction with new shows and delivered significant ratings improvement.

Dubuc is one of the most prominent executives in the cable TV arena, and one of media’s few female CEOs. Her departure to run a digital media entity underscores the difficulty and uncertainty ahead for traditional cable. Dubuc first joined History in 1999 as a programming executive. she rose through the ranks and was promoted to president-CEO under Raven in 2013.

During the past few months, Dubuc was a candidate for the top job at Amazon Studios that wound up going to former NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke. The public nature of Dubuc’s talks with Amazon have left her in an awkward position as the leader of A+E Networks. Dubuc’s contract is set to expire later this year and she had been expected to move on soon. The Disney and Hearst connections to Vice could help smooth her transition. A former producer, Dubuc had been in the A+E fold since 1999 when she joined History as a programming executive.

Vice Media has grown significantly during the past decade. It’s seen as the largest and most highly valued of the slew of digital content firms focused on news and lifestyle material aimed at millennial consumers, a list that includes BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Mashable, and Univision’s Fusion Media Group. But the advertising market has become saturated with content options and a number of big-ticket advertisers such as Procter & Gamble have pulled back on digital ad spending because of concerns about content issues and measurement concerns.

Vice has expanded into traditional TV through Viceland and through its programming partnership with HBO. Vice produces the weekly newsmagazine series “Vice,” which will deliver 35 installments this year. It is also produces the Monday-Friday “Vice News Tonight” newscast for HBO.

After the New York Times published an expose about Vice Media and its company culture, Vice fired chief digital officer Mike Germano. Vice Media documentary films chief Jason Mojica left the company in November following a critical report by the Daily Beast about his interactions with some female Vice employees.

The shakeup at the top of A+E will bring a familiar face back to A+E Networks’ Manhattan headquarters. Raven spent more than 30 years at A+E Networks, rising from to CEO for eight years from 2005 to 2013. She’s served as chairman emeritus of the company since 2015. She championed Dubuc as her successor in 2013, and she remains a well-loved figure at the company.

“Nancy and I have worked together for almost 20 years, and I have seen the tremendous accomplishments and innovation she has brought to A+E—from its creative content, to attracting award-winning talent and the digital and studio businesses she has nurtured,” Raven said. “A+E is a special place with extraordinary and talented people. I look forward to helping the board and leading the talented A+E teams during this transition.”

Here is Dubuc’s full statement:

For nearly 20 years, I have called A+E Networks home and the team has been an extended part of my family. Together, we have had the privilege to build some of the most iconic brands in media. Every step of my career, I have had the opportunity to learn and grow from some of the most inspiring and innovative minds at A+E and in both the creative and business community. I could not be prouder of what we achieved together.

Anyone who knows me well, knows I am an entrepreneur, creator, rebel and disruptor at heart. I have a famous neon sign in my office that blares ‘Who dares wins.’ After 20 years at A+E the hardest thing will be to leave the people and company I love. But, as a creative executive and leader, and to stay true to my personal mantra, I need my next dare and my next challenge.

I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our owners at Hearst and The Walt Disney Company for their unwavering support and belief in me over my long career here. I’d especially like to thank Steve and Ben for supporting my decision to write my next chapter.

I have supreme confidence in the brave storytellers and management team at A+E and I will always be rooting for and watching proudly from the sidelines — even as I head off to my next adventure.

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