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Shane Smith, CEO of international media company VICE, in Toronto, Ontario on October 30, 2014.

Emma Ewing-Nagy/The Globe and Mail

Nancy Dubuc, the chief executive officer of A+E Television Networks, is stepping down and is poised to take on a similar role at Vice Media LLC, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Shane Smith, a Vice founder and its current CEO, would shift to overseeing programming and content deals, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. Smith and Vice's board have been in talks for some time about carving out a new position for him, other people said.

Vice cultivated a reputation as an edgy company that thumbed its nose at its stodgy peers, and Smith was the brash leader of its band of merry pranksters. That reputation has grown less appealing to advertisers as the media industry tries to combat decades of gender inequality and harassment. The talks with Dubuc follow a series of changes at Vice in which senior executives there have been fired or put on leave due to complaints of sexual harassment.

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Now Smith, 48, is giving way to one of the most accomplished female executives in media. Dubuc, 49, who has led A+E since 2013, helped assemble a popular reality-TV lineup that included hits such as "Ice Road Truckers" and "Duck Dynasty." Like other TV executives, she's been trying to manage a new era of digital competition, introducing a subscription service, the Lifetime Movie Club, and negotiating to have her company's networks included in new web-based, cable-like packages of TV channels.

A+E, a joint venture of Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Corp., owns a number of cable TV channels, including History, A&E and Lifetime. The company said Monday that Dubuc was stepping down, effective April 16, to be replaced on an interim basis by Abbe Raven, the chairman emeritus and former CEO.

"Anyone who knows me well, knows I am an entrepreneur, creator, rebel and disruptor at heart," Dubuc said in a statement. "I have a famous neon sign in my office that blares 'Who dares wins.'"

Vice Media, whose target audience is young adults, includes the cable TV network Viceland, a news program on HBO and online video efforts.

Variety, the trade publication, earlier reported the news of Dubuc's talks with Vice.

Disney owns 10 per cent of Vice directly. A+E has an additional 18 per cent and shares ownership of Viceland with Vice.

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