When VICELAND launches next year, the 24-hour TV channel co-owned by VICE Media and Rogers Media will feature several series produced out of the new VICE Canada Studio in Toronto’s Liberty Village. But though shows like Ellen Page’s Gaycation and Matty Matheson’s Dead Set on Life are built around personalities who are well known to domestic audiences, the content isn’t intended to appeal solely to Canadians or to meet CanCon requirements. It’s made in Canada, for the world.
Reaching a global audience has been central to VICE’s business model for much of its existence as a media brand. “For VICE to grow, we had to explore the world, because with the type of content we were making, our audience was limited,” says VICE Media co-founder Suroosh Alvi in an interview. Relying on what Alvi calls “the universality of global youth culture,” the brand grew laterally, assembling a sizeable millennial audience by aggregating viewers in dozens of countries.
VICE is not the only brand to successfully export online content abroad. Canadian creators are the third-largest producer of video content on YouTube, and 90% of views come from outside the country, and their ranks include some of the platform’s top stars like IISuperwomanII and Matthew Santoro. But foreign television audiences have historically shown little interest in CanCon. “If I think about over the last 15 years which Canadian shows actually crossed the border and made an impact, off the top of my head I can only think of…maybe three,” says Alvi. He runs off the list—Kids in the Hall, Orphan Black, and further back, SCTV.
The international focus of the new channel and VICE’s other media properties is a financial imperative. “When we started making video content for the Internet, we were told that it was going to be easier, cheaper and faster than traditional linear television content,” Alvi noted at the event to announce the new channel on November 5. “That was a fallacy. It was actually harder, expensive and slow.” Producing quality content—which Rick Brace, president of Rogers Media (which owns Canadian Business) identified as a key reason to partner with VICE—is unlikely to be any cheaper.
VICELAND will take The Biography Channel’s spot on the dial here in Canada, and A&E Networks will host a U.S. version. The new channel does have the potential to attract a set of millennial-targeting advertisers that have heretofore avoided conventional TV. “This is a different demo that different sponsors target that demo, so yeah, there’s obviously an opportunity there as well,” Brace said. Still, the Canadian television audience isn’t large enough on its own to justify those costs, so repackaging shows produced here for TV and mobile distribution elsewhere seems like a savvy strategy.
Rogers Media is more geographically bound than its partner, and that’s reflected in the ownership structure of the two primary assets of the $100 million partnership. Both are split 70:30, with Rogers taking the larger share of the television channel and VICE of the content-producing studio. But Brace believes the company needs to look beyond Canada too. “We need to find scalability, and the way to do that, especially for content that’s of this quality, is to find revenue streams that are external to the country,” he says.
The VICELAND shows announced so far are based all on VICE’s signature style of “character-driven documentaries” (Alvi’s words), and hosts like Page, Matheson and former star of The Wire Michael K. Williams bring individual fan bases that span timezones and borders. Alvi’s own project, Terror, has the potential to break big outside Canada. “[It] would be a huge win to make shows here that would run internationally,” he says. “That’s one of the goals, is to make content that can have a big audience.”