Where might you find Ellen Page on an international tour of different LGBT scenes. Krishna Andavolu exploring marijuana etiquette, and Clive Martin recording his nights out in detail? Of course, the answer is Viceland, the 24-hour TV channel from Vice Media, which launches in Britain today.
Described by the Vice team as “a new TV channel for and by young people curious about life right now” under the creative direction of Spike Jonze (yes, that Spike Jonze), its content is made up of a mix of documentaries, lifestyle, entertainment and news programming — and a small portion of the most popular video content from the Vice website.
The channel marks its first day on UK screens with new offering The Viceland UK Census, a 90-minute doc that claims to reveal the true attitudes and beliefs of young people in the UK by offering them a platform to say whatever’s on their mind.
The channel follows in the footsteps of Viceland US, which launched back in February of this year, and Vice Media CEO Shane Smith showed no fear when predicting the channel’s success. “Twelve months from now we’ll be on the cover of Time magazine as the guys who brought millennials back to TV,” he boasted to The Hollywood Reporter.
Six months later, and that Time cover might need pushing back. During the American launch, Viceland struck an agreement with Nielsen to keep its ratings private for six months – when they were finally revealed last month, they were disappointingly low. Viceland’s average 18-49 prime-time audience in July was just 45,000, less than half of the 92,000 that H2, the channel it replaced, averaged in the previous July. The median viewer’s age has dropped by 17 years, but the average Viceland viewer is still 40 – meaning that half of its viewers are not part of the millennial bracket, widely defined as between 18 and 34.
Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO of A&E Networks, Vice’s partner on the US channel, insists that ratings are not her primary concern. “You have to look at what is the promise of H2 10 years from now, versus what is the promise of Viceland 10 years from now,” she told the Wall Street Journal.
“They had no idea at MTV what the hell they were doing, but they just did it,” she added in a later Journal story. “We’re not exactly sure what we’re doing, but damn it, I love this content. I don’t know that it’s all going to work, but I’m not going to dissolve the conversation into numbers, performance and business. We’re not a widget factory.”
So, how will Viceland fare across the Atlantic? Smith notes that this is just the latest move from Vice in what has been “a long love affair with our British and Irish audience,” and it’s certainly true that the brand has as distinctive a UK voice as its US one. Viceland UK is not just a series of repeats of its American documentaries: much of the channel’s new content, including Black Market, Noisey London, Big Night Out as well as The UK Census, are aimed specifically at a UK audience. Kevin Sutcliffe, the senior vice president of TV and video for Viceland, emphasised to the Today programme that British television economy is “very vibrant”, as “live television viewing is dropping away, but download and on demand is extremely buoyant.”
It’s hard to pinpoint what about this venture will actually tempt millennials back to TV, as Smith forsees, but if there is one thing we can count on from Vice, it’s that it would see the flow of mainstream content, and move determinately in the opposite direction.