Vice Canada talks growth plans and pitching tips

At a "Meet the Funder" event hosted by Canada's DOC Institute on Tuesday (March 29), senior executives at millennial media company Vice Canada revealed the company's future plans, newest digital frontiers and how to work with them.
March 30, 2016

At a “Meet the Funder” event hosted by Canada’s DOC Institute on Tuesday (March 29), a trio of senior execs at millennial media company and content studio Vice Canada revealed the company’s future plans, newest digital frontiers and how to work with them.

During the panel session – moderated by Emmy-awarded doc producer Lisa Valencia Svensson - Patrick McGuire (pictured, left), Vice Canada’s head of content, discussed the ways in which the youth-focused media juggernaut, which most recently acquired UK indie Pulse Films, is staking its claim in a variety of platforms that include image messaging application Snapchat and emerging technologies.

“Virtual reality is something that we’re working on pretty intently right now,” McGuire told a packed room at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, noting the company’s previous investment in Chris Milk’s VR firm

“We’re looking at different projects right now in Canada that, at the very least, have a VR component and we’re excited because… consumer virtual reality is going to be a reality in the next few months,” he continued.

While Vice Media is forging ahead with experimental new technologies, it is also diving into linear programming, having launched the new 24-hour lifestyle and entertainment channel Viceland across the U.S. (in partnership with A+E Networks) and Canada (in partnership with Rogers Media) in February. The channel is overseen by Oscar-winning director and long-time Vice partner Spike Jonze and chief content officer Eddy Moretti, who serve as co-presidents.

Viceland currently airs a raft of factual series, some of which have made their debuts across Vice’s suite of online channels, including culinary series F***, That’s Delicious; investigative series Weediquette; LGBT travelogue Gaycation; and music-focused series Noisey.

The channel – which aims to slot “engaging, original content across the worlds of culture, food, sex, fashion, music, sports and much more” – is hoping to plug the gaps in its linear programming schedule by rapidly increasing its television output.

In all, Vice Canada is hoping to have produced 75 hours of television content in year one.

“There’s maybe 5% [of created content] on air right now,” McGuire says. “There’s so much we’re working on that’s in various stages of completion – it’s just one of those things that will take some time to grow.”

To date, Vice has handled the business affairs of all producing projects associated with the brand, according to Michael Kronish, executive VP of TV and digital production at Vice Canada. By concentrating on the “paperwork hell,” Vice removes the time-consuming responsibility of bookkeeping, and instead allows producers and creatives to focus their lens on content creation.

Thus, the network tends to retain the copyright of the content produced for it. “Our preference is to retain copyright and pay producers, filmmakers and directors to make the films for us,” said Kronish.

With Viceland slated to launch in the UK in September, and France not far behind, Vice’s intentions are to “have as many Vicelands as there are Discovery Channels,” noted Kronish.

For there to be Viceland networks worldwide, captivating content is needed to grow and sustain a hungry millennial audience. The best way for third-party producers to fluidly enter into the Vice environment, the trio agreed, is if there is exclusive access to the subject, or if it’s a topic the content studio has never heard of.

“Blow us away with the idea, and I promise we’ll find a way to make the show,” Kronish concluded. “We’re a one-stop shop for funding. We’re not expecting producers to go out and carve together pieces of financing.”

“Generally what we say to people who are pitching are ‘access, characters and under-reported stories.’ [That's] really the trifecta of what we’re looking for,” added Stephanie Brown (right), executive producer at Vice Digital.

Forthcoming original series include Rise, an 8 x 44-minute series focused on indigenous peoples of the world; the long-awaited Vice News Daily on HBO, a daily half-hour news program with a release slated for late spring; and Vice Guide to Film, an anthology series focused on such directors as Werner Herzog and David Fincher, with their feature films accompanying the broadcast.

While programming is currently “host-heavy,” execs are constantly on the prowl for new formats in a variety of genres, from comedy to studio-based programming, McGuire says.

“The whole network is designed to be a living and breathing thing even if it just looks like one thing right now, I guarantee you in a year it will look differently,” he explained. “We just want to work with people who want to push us forward.”

(Photo courtesy  Kaz Ehara)

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