So farewell, then, Viceland. We hardly knew you.
The announcement on Monday that Rogers Media is ending its financial relationship – read: sugar-daddy arrangement – with Vice and that the Viceland channel will cease to operate as a TV channel on March 31, struck nobody like a thunderbolt. It was always going to end like this.
Back in October, 2014, Rogers and Vice Media signed a $100-million deal for content, which would see Vice shows air on a TV channel and be available exclusively for mobile-phone customers of Rogers and Fido. It was a lot of money to throw at an upstart online outfit. And it was about Rogers gaining twentysomething viewers – a marketing ploy by a desperate, old media company seeing its traditional TV business model crumbling.
Thing is, Vice was never going to work as a TV channel. It had no business being in the arena and only money from Rogers was keeping the channel alive. Where Vice content belongs is on the internet and on streaming services. One supposes that in 2014, that didn't seem as obvious to Rogers as it was to everyone else.
Since then, the clues about Vice as a TV disaster were rather glaring. A heavily promoted launch of a Viceland channel in the U.K. in the fall of 2016 was catastrophic. In the early going, on some nights during primetime, Viceland UK had a zero rating in the official audience measurement chart. That is, officially, there was nobody watching. Nobody.
Later, reports in the British media quoted Enders Analysis, which tracks TV ratings and consumer behaviour, as saying that on some nights during its first few weeks on the air, Viceland UK had less than 10,000 viewers among 16 to 34 year olds, the market all things Vice is aimed at. Typically, the lowest-rated shows at the bottom of the top 20 most-watched shows in Britain have about five million viewers.
These failures cannot be blamed on Vice as a media organization. The blame is on Rogers Media here and Sky TV in the U.K. From the beginning, the plan to make Vice a traditional TV channel looked like the reflexive response of stuffed shirts in suits to a hipster revolution – cozy up and hope desperately to co-opt young people into an arrangement that suited stuffed shirts, not the kids in jeans and T-shirts.
Naturally, Vice was not going to turn down the money and say, "No thanks, mister." The arrogance of Vice is unbounded. As a media outfit, it is one giant conflation of attitude and aptitude to con deep-pocketed brands into financial partnerships that, the brands believe, will attach some cool quotient to their product. After Rogers, there will be another phone company, another Intel Corporation or Nike to buy into Vice's self-declared belief that it understands millennials like no other media outfit.
In its response to the end of the deal with Rogers, Vice has its own spin on things. Of course it does. "Today VICE Canada announced that they have acquired full ownership over their studio business and VICELAND content library, following the end of their joint venture with Rogers Media and the subsequent end of Rogers Media's minority position in VICE Studio Canada. VICE Canada will be announcing new partnerships in the Canadian market soon."
So, Vice wasn't dumped by Rogers. No, it was taking ownership of itself. A peculiar and nervy way to spin the end of a TV channel. Vice recently spun accusations of sexual misconduct by male staff in much the same way – it's an opportunity for a do-over and self-realization, or something.
In its short life, Viceland Canada contributed a little to Canadian TV. It has 12 Canadian Screen Award (CSA) nominations, not that a CSA nom is any basis for excellence given that almost every show on Canadian TV gets nominated for something.
Among those nominations are, for best comedy series, Nirvanna the Band the Show and for best documentary program, Rise (Vice calls it RISE, being big on all-capital titles), about Indigenous communities across the Americas aiming to safeguard their homelands and "rising up" against colonization. It is actually a co-production between Vice Studios and APTN but details rarely matter to Vice.
The loss of any Canadian productions of quality is damaging but not catastrophic. Bluntly, if Vice is serious about Canadian content, it will continue to make scripted and factual series and put them online and promote them.
All of television is moving to the model of streaming services and on-demand platforms. That's why CBS launched its new Star Trek iteration on its all-access platform. That's why Disney is acquiring a chunk of Fox – to acquire a library and new content to compete with Netflix. In this context, the very idea of a Vice TV channel is ludicrous. It doesn't belong there and Rogers got taken for an expensive ride.