Realscreen London: Vice’s Alex Miller talks VR, Snapchat and youth culture

In a keynote address at Realscreen London on Thursday (October 1), Vice Media's global head of content Alex Miller discussed the company's plans in the VR space, a further expansion of its digital channels and how video is still what the brand does best.
October 2, 2015

In a keynote interview at Realscreen London on Thursday (October 1), Vice Media’s global head of content Alex Miller discussed the company’s plans in the VR space, a further expansion of its digital channels and how video is still what the brand does best.

“It’s how we first stuck our head out of the pack and said, ‘Hi, we’re different from everybody else,’ and I still think it’s the thing we do better than anybody else,” said the New York-based exec, who was interviewed by Krissi Murison, associate editor at UK outlet The Sunday Times Magazine.

After boarding Vice in 2008, Miller managed content for Vice UK and also produced a number of docs from around the world, including Kenya and Venezuela. Since last October, he has overseen content on as well as the brand’s network of 10 digital channels including Vice News and music channel Noisey, among others. The exec – who was tapped as global head of content in February – said his job is now split 50/50 between written content and video, adding that the latter is the crux of the organization.

Addressing delegates, Miller noted that the media brand will soon be launching “another handful” of digital channels over the next year, and will also do more television projects. The company’s HBO programming is growing, he said, and Vice will aim to expand its linear offerings across all its 36 territories. However, he would not comment or offer any updates on the status of a potential channel through A+E Networks – much discussed by the press since last spring’s Upfronts but not officially confirmed by either party to date.

As an example of Vice’s unique profile in the media landscape, the exec cited last month’s Vice-produced HBO special on the American criminal justice system, in which Vice Media founder Shane Smith visited a prison with President Barack Obama.

“All 10 of our digital channels poured love and effort into creating a digital suite called ‘America Incarcerated’ which ran for a week building up to the show,” he explained. “It’s going to run for two more weeks, then our magazine is going to drop its prison special.

“What we’ve got there is a month-long focus on a topic we think is important. [It's] TV, print, digital and mobile – because Snapchat is involved in it as well – and I don’t believe anyone else can quite do that,” he concluded.

The exec spoke extensively of youth culture, and how it permeates every aspect of Vice and mandates that young people oversee all elements of production.

“You walk into our offices and there’s a lot of young people there. And, frankly, if you don’t do something like Snapchat, there will be 50 25-year-olds at your side going, ‘Why aren’t we doing Snapchat you idiot? That’s all I use,’” he said.

Further advancing its technological capability is the company’s recent push into virtual reality. Director Spike Jonez helmed a VR newscast of a New York protest against police killings for Vice back in January, and the company just released a 360-degree video from Afghanistan featuring journalist Ben Anderson.

“What’s going to define the companies that carry the canon for the next 50 years of media will be those that are organized in such a way that they are nimble enough to keep up to speed with the technological advances,” said Miller.

When asked by Murison what mainstream media is still doing wrong, the Vice exec applauded the work done by CNN, the BBC and The Guardian but noted that they should give their staff more license to do what they want to do.

“I think it must be very, very difficult to get a [90-minute] documentary signed off by the BBC, if not near impossible. But they have the people there to do that,” said Miller. “Just believe in your people a little more.”

(Photo by Daniele Alcinii). With files by Barry Walsh.

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