Edinburgh ’16: Vice’s Shane Smith talks revolution

The founder and CEO of the global millennial media brand used his MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival to urge decision-makers to break rules and "open s*** up" for the Gen Y audience.
August 24, 2016

For this year’s Edinburgh International Television Festival’s annual MacTaggart Memorial Lecture, Vice founder and CEO Shane Smith used his time at the lectern to deliver an expletive-peppered critique of the “vapid and vacuous s***” permeating mainstream media, and warnings about the long-term results of the revolution currently sweeping the business.

“It’s scary, and it’s fast, and it’s going to be ugly,” he told delegates at the conference, which officially kicked off yesterday (August 24). “But it’s also totally necessary to keep going forward. . . Change has never been more important, never so crucial – especially in our industry.

“In the long term, it means: a changing playing field, a mild to medium dose of chaos, and a fast moving, ever-shifting, highly volatile marketplace, in which only the most nimble and dynamic companies will survive,” he added.

Smith said the media consolidation trend that has stretched across the last several years will only intensify. Referring to 2017 as a “bloodbath,” Smith predicted that larger media conglomerates were going to swoop in on digital media in plays for scale that will lead to both a “merger and acquisition frenzy” and an “evisceration of digital media.”

But once the larger media companies have the means to connect with an audience that has increasingly turned to digital for its news and entertainment, they will have to rethink their approach to content.

“Baby boomers have had a stranglehold on media and advertising for a generation,” Smith offered. “That stranglehold is finally being broken by a highly educated, ethnically diverse, global-thinking, hard-to-reach generation, and media is having a hard time adapting to this rapid change.

“Now, we all know that a lot of media is derivative. . . We just make what has been successful before,” he added. “The reason why all this chaos in media is happening is because the new audience, the new purchasing power realizes that vapid and vacuous s*** isn’t going to get us to where we need to go.”

Using Vice’s growth from a Montreal-based street ‘zine to a multimedia, global empire as a prime example, and also citing James MacTaggart’s own advice to say, “The hell with the limitations, we’ll break the rules,” Smith exhorted his audience to follow suit.

“Here’s a good place to start. Open s*** up. Media today is like a private club, so closed that most young people feel disenfranchised. You have to hand it over to the kids.”

The Edinburgh International Television Festival runs until August 26.

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