Bruce Dixon and Hozefa Lokhandwala have been on the job for less than two weeks as co-CEOs of Vice Media Group. But despite the newness of their current roles, Lokhandwala and Dixon are already well versed in the inner workings of the Brooklyn-based company, having served for several years in senior roles under recently exited CEO Nancy Dubuc.
Lokhandwala has been chief strategy officer at VMG since October 2018, and Dixon has held the position of CFO since 2021 and was previously CFO of Vice Studios. Both were brought in by Dubuc — who departed the company Feb. 24 after nearly five years as CEO — and now seek to follow in her footsteps while shaping the future of Vice, a company that has been seeking a buyer over the past year.
Vice Media’s investors include Disney, TPG, James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems, the Raine Group and WPP. Last month, the cash-strapped company secured a $30 million loan from Fortress Investment Group. Vice
The company’s five main business units are: Vice.com, the Vice Studios film and TV production unit; the Vice TV television network; Vice News; and creative agency Virtue. The company’s portfolio also includes Refinery29, the media and entertainment brand focused on women acquired in 2019; London-based Pulse Films; and i-D, a digital and print style publication covering fashion, culture and design.
Dixon and Lokhandwala opened up to Variety in an interview Tuesday — among their first sitdowns since being named co-CEOs on Feb. 27 — that coincided with the release of Vice’s fourth annual diversity, equity and inclusion report (which reveals, among other stats, that 65% of new hires in the company globally in 2022 were women), as well as the launch of their new brand campaign video (which can be viewed above) featuring a slogan that touts Vice Media as a company “For Everyone Else.”
The new leaders of Vice also spoke about the current state of a sale and potential buyers, what the post-Dubuc regime will be like and how Vice-owned titles including “The Dark Side” franchise and Vice Studios’ upcoming HBO doc following the University of Alabama’s TikTok-famous sorority rush week (aka “Bama Rush”) are just the start of building on company-wide IP.
I’d like to start with what led to Nancy Dubuc’s exit as CEO and what the transition has been like over the past few weeks since you were named co-CEOs.
Hozefa Lokhandwala: I don’t think we should comment on Nancy’s departure except to say that she was a very valued friend and colleague of ours. And she is a dear friend. Look, she’s been at the top of the company for about five years. She’s a part of the blueprint that got us to where we are. And as you think about transition, we have been at the most senior roles in this company and we’ve spent a lot of time with the most senior leadership, in all the work that we do, both internal, operationally and external work. There will be some transition — it’s day 12 — but we’re very quickly jumping into a lot of things that we were already very deeply involved with.
Bruce Dixon: I can’t underscore enough how closely Hozefa and I worked with Nancy. You really do get a feel for where the organization is going. As Hozefa said, Nancy is a dear friend of ours, we worked well with her and look forward to continuing with the company in our new roles.
Are there plans for a strategy shift?
Dixon: As Hozefa said, it’s day 12. For us, the main leadership role is setting the direction of the company, aligning the organization to what that direction is and also mobilizing our strong leadership team to execute on their strategy. For us, it’s a lot more of understanding that Vice is a household name; it’s got a unique position where it’s a high level of engagement with the younger audience and that, in turn, is a valuable demographic for the media space and for brands. We want to continue that. It’s a case of doing more of what works. One thing we want to focus on is how the business works together more, and leveraging more of its internal expertise across platforms, across the content that it generates. And I think that’s where we’ll be focusing a lot of our time.
With this new branding proposition, are you looking to reaffirm to consumers what Vice is or hoping to redefine the brand?
Lokhandwala: Vice has a very distinct proposition for the world and it’s important for us to continue to message to the world that we have that distinct proposition. The funny thing about that reel, and what’s really important to recognize, is that “for everyone else” is actually the larger market. It’s the biggest total addressable market. And where we see a lot of players play is in a very narrow cast version of what they think they have to program to demo-wise. What Vice has really done prolifically, and what we care a lot about, is creating content for significant portions of the underserved community and doing so in a form or fashion that is premium, thoughtful, compelling and driving culture forward. And that’s driven a lot by the people that we put on screen, who write the articles, who are behind the scenes working in support. It’s really driven by this cool complex of this company that we’re very proud of. That brand proposition reel really encapsulates, in a very quick 60 seconds, the power of Vice, who we reach. And when you really think about it, we’re really reaching a lot of folks who are not served appropriately and that’s actually the biggest group out there. And we can do that because we’re made up of those groups.
Dixon: It’s not something that we tick off and say that we’re doing, as far as business is concerned, as well. So that leads us to our diversity, equity and inclusion — that building that culture within the organization will better represent the content that we put out to the outside world. It’s authentic. You would expect us to come in on week one or week two and focus on something in the numbers or content, but actually looking inside and seeing the culture of the organization is quite pleasing. This will be the fourth DEI report that we’re putting out and it’s sustained progress. But, again, it’s not a ticking-the-box exercise, it’s something that gives us a checkpoint on ourselves in terms of how we are doing within the culture of the organization and how that best represents our brand to the outside world.
What can you say about where you are in the sales process? What would you hope to see in a buyer?
Lokhandwala: There’s really nothing to say at this point. We continue to be impressed and proud of how powerful and strong this brand and company are and how we show up in a differentiated way. And that is reflected in the process and the interest that we have in Vice. The importance for us is that the company is continuing to drive strong results and perform on a fundamental basis and in any regard where we have new ownership, we would expect it to be driving in a continued and growing profile with the same strong and fundamental performance –better performance.
Dixon: Any future buyer that builds on its success and builds a long-term growth around the brand, both in the brand itself and its acceptance out there versus its financial success, that’s what we would want for this company. That’s what we want for the brand. We’re in a robust process and we remain excited by the responses so far and we’ll update when we can.
Are you considering divesting individual assets within the company, like Refinery29?
Lokhandwala: Again, not much we can say around around that front. We are in a process of looking at a number of options and will reflect on what we receive and talk it through and when we have something to announce, we will.
Is Vice looking for additional capital following the recent $30 million received in financing from Fortress?
Lokhandwala: As part of the process that we’re going through, we’re evaluating all different kinds of constructs and if that was an opportunity that made sense for the long term nature of the company.
Dixon: In the short term, we remain supported through this process that we’re going through now. In the long term and the short term, we remain fairly well supported.
Vice Studios produces content for many platforms. How do you balance working with your outside partners and still feeding content to the Vice channel?
Dixon: We have very valuable relationships and content relationships, in terms of production, in particular for TV under Morgan. But we have an amazing studio, as well, internally in Vice Studios that goes across all sorts of nonfiction, news documentaries and into scripted, as well. And my hope would be that we utilize more internal assets, internal resources to develop more internally. I think the relationships in the industry are important to us, but also the ability to actually use our own ecosystem to create a lot of content that is valuable that resonates around the group, as well.
I know the “Dark Side” franchise is a big one for Vice. What other Vice IP are you looking to expand upon in different divisions across the company?
Dixon: I think the “Dark Side” franchise is a good example of success. One thing I look at in our group that’s in our DNA is the hard-hitting, factual news documentary space. That’s the authenticity of the brand, generally, where Vice is concerned. That’s super important and looking at the more long form content around that. And on the completely other side of the house, in terms of entertainment, the “Gangs of London” series that we have two seasons of now, furthering that franchise and looking at how we can expand on that would be something. Season 3 is in development.
Lokhandwala: But we also have some other franchises that deliver on vertical video and across digital platforms. We’ve been really pleased with “Unbothered’s” growth. We’ve seen some interesting things come out of Vice’s lifestyle group with stuff around music and food. Then you have content coming on Refinery, particularly around financial wellbeing and health. And i-D has been doing some really impressive work, particularly on the fashion shows. The important thing for us is that we see a lot of franchises developing. And we’re focused on laddering up some of these franchises into bigger, longer form content. Some of that you can see on the TV screen, you could see it on film. We have a documentary that is coming out on “Bama Rush.” Bama Rush was big on TikTok, as you know, so we’ve made a documentary around it and you’re going to see it on HBO. You’ll see some other stuff that will come off of that that will be really powerful. And the whole goal of the enterprise is that we are a nimble, scrappy organization that doesn’t have legacy infrastructure that stops us from all the divisions working together. And one of our key goals is to make sure that we make those internal synergies or internal mechanisms work to our benefit, to drive more of those opportunities across the full blueprint of the company.
This interview has been edited and condensed.