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Vice could file for bankruptcy this month, report says

The digital brand continues to struggle with a downturn in the media economy.

The digital brand continues to struggle with a downturn in the media economy.

Vice Media is getting its ducks in a row for a potential Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing that could come within a matter of a few weeks, according to a report published by the New York Times on Monday.

If true, a bankruptcy filing would come shortly after Vice laid off dozens of journalists and closed down several television and digital productions as part of a broad reorganization of its business meant to reduce expenses amid a downturn in the content market.

A bankruptcy filing isn’t certain, and Vice could avoid it if it sells itself to another entity. According to the newspaper, Vice has entertained offers from at least five different companies, but those offers likely won’t materialize into anything substantive.

Like other outlets, Vice has been hammered by headwinds in the advertising space as companies pull back on their marketing budgets due to inflation and other macroeconomic factors. It is one of several digital-focused media brands to face financial challenges over the last few years: BuzzFeed recently announced the closure of its news division and the layoffs of hundreds of employees after struggling to cope with the weight of its corporate debt as fewer online eyeballs gravitate toward its clickbait lists, surveys and image galleries.

Vice proved popular with maturing millennials about two decades ago, and peaked around the time that vast social unrest was spreading across the United States. Its reporting from Occupy Wall Street helped transform Vice into a recognizable brand beyond its target demographic of punk rockers and skateboarders. It built on that brand recognition by covering the underbelly of the Internet, police reform protests, alternative lifestyle events and other matters of high interest to its audience that were largely ignored by mainstream media brands.

Several years ago, Vice launched its own cable channel in partnership with A+E Networks, believing that a pay television network would earn it respect with traditional advertisers and help it stand alone among a crowded landscape of content farms. It didn’t: The accelerated trend of cord-cutting — consumers moving away from cable and satellite subscriptions for cheaper online offerings — meant the channel, Viceland, didn’t earn high ratings. Most of the content produce for Viceland, now called Vice TV, was ultimately sold to third parties like Disney’s Hulu, Fox’s Tubi and Google’s YouTube.

Like other brands, Vice has struggled over the last few years to overcome the downturn in the media economy brought on by the global coronavirus health pandemic, which threw the industry at large into a tizzy. But Vice’s problems began well before the pandemic — the health crisis only accelerated its woes, and offered Vice little opportunity to course correct without drastic cost reductions. Some of those plans are still being evaluated.

“Vice Media Group has been engaged in a comprehensive evaluation of strategic alternatives and planning,” a spokesperson for the company said on Monday. “The company, its board and stakeholders continue to be focused on finding the best path for the company.”

In the meantime, executives who once promoted Vice as the next big thing in media have since left the company, including former Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc, who exited in February. Dubuc lasted five years at Vice, leaving the company in worse financial shape than she found it.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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