Reports emerged yesterday that Vice Media Group could be filing for bankruptcy, with media buyers attributing the group’s advertising struggles to content blocking and a lack of USP.
According to The New York Times, bankruptcy may not be the end result, with more than five companies expressing interest in buying Vice, but a lack of advertising support has undoubtedly contributed to the media group’s financial status.
The company was reportedly worth $5.7 billion in 2017, but has been seeking to sell for $1.5 billion.
One investment lead at a media agency said that Vice had been a “victim” of content-blocking and “machine-based optimisations”. Advertisers have been increasingly concerned with brand safety and are conscious of where their ads are appearing. For instance, last year, Comparethemarket.com stopped its ads from running alongside coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But Vice, which is known for its coverage of drugs and party culture, potentially fell victim to programmatic ad-blocking, which didn’t understand the nuance of its coverage.
The investment lead said: “Objective blocking of content without understanding nuance or the audience relationship with content has harmed them immeasurably. All news brands have suffered as the importance of brand safety has increased in advertisers' eyes and technology provided solutions to meet this need in a programmatic space."
They added that, as the publication was on the “edgier” end of the spectrum, it felt the consequences of brand safety “more than most”.
“Their programmatic pipes should have provided a consistent pipeline of revenue on which to build, allowing them to focus on other areas. However, as their content was marked 'not brand safe' this pipeline didn’t exist.”
For another media investor, Vice didn’t have enough of a USP for them to consider the platform as a high-priority partner.
Instead, the media investor cited examples such as Quantcast and MiQ as the preferred go-tos, because of more sophisticated client data as well as offline opportunities.
Vice, they said, was limited in that it was online only and had a niche audience, which wasn’t broad enough for all of their clients.
They added that although companies such as Meta and Twitter had made huge lay-offs, they were big enough to carry them, whereas Vice Media Group is not big enough to handle that volatility.
Last week, the news group made more than 100 staff members redundant out of its 1,500-strong workforce and cut its Vice News Tonight programme. News of its potential bankruptcy followed shortly after the closure of fellow digital media outlet Buzzfeed News, which will remain online as an archive.
Richard Reeves, managing director of the Association of Online Publishers, said: "Between inflationary pressures and tightening adspend, this is a challenging time for digital publishers across the board. Vice Media – like the recently shuttered Buzzfeed News – is a vibrant, exciting challenger brand that's been active in defining how news can be delivered in a way that feels authentic and engaging for younger audiences."
Reeves added that he was worried that, without publications such as Vice, their audiences will “become increasingly reliant on social media for information” and be subject to misinformation.
Campaign has reached out to Vice Media Group for comment.