Vice Media, known for disrupting the news media landscape by reporting from dangerous parts of the world and covering controversial topics some traditional news outlets don't, may join forces with one of its old media competitors.
Time Warner (TWX) is reportedly in talks to acquire a large stake in Vice. The stake could be as much as $1 billion and values Vice Media at over $2 billion. It wouldn’t be Vice's first deal with old media. Last year, 21st Century Fox (FOX) bought a 5% stake in Vice Media for $70 million. The stake valued the company at $1.4 billion.
It’s a long way for Vice which started in 1994 as a “punk-zine” in Montreal. It now has 35 bureaus around the world, millions of subscribers on its YouTube channels, and its show on Time Warner’s HBO has been renewed for two more seasons.
Meanwhile, Time Warner’s news businesses have been trying to compete with new media upstarts like Vice. Time Warner spun off its Time Inc. (TIME) publishing unit, which had its first day of trading yesterday. Ratings for Time Warner’s CNN surged when it covered of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but criticism surged as well for the constant coverage of the missing plane. And HLN, the Time Warner owned unit that could combine with Vice, should the companies come to an agreement, rebranded itself earlier this year as “the first TV network for the social media generation.”
Yahoo Senior Columnist Michael Santoli said the talks indicate that traditional media outlets like Time Warner haven’t found a way to consistently reach consumers whose viewing habits were honed online. So, they're reaching out to upstart competitors who have been able to succeed at attracting those consumers, which remind him of a recent high-profile acquisition.
“To me, it reminds me, slightly, of Apple (AAPL) buying Beats, where they’re trying to acquire a little bit of cool, a little bit of youth credibility," he said.
But whether or not the Time Warner-Vice deals goes through, Santoli said it shows that the media giant is experimenting. “They need to figure out how to refresh their audience,” he said.