Vice's New Cable Network Is More Popular on YouTube Than TV

VICELAND Launch Party

The VICELAND launch party at The Angel Orensanz Foundation on Feb. 25, 2016 in New York City.

Photographer: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
  • `Weediquette' is most-watched episode on YouTube channel
  • Vice won't provide ratings for Viceland on cable, satellite

In the weeks since the Viceland channel premiered on cable and satellite TV systems, the majority of viewers have actually been watching its programming elsewhere: online.

Vice Media Inc. released early episodes of six series on Facebook, YouTube and vice.com to stimulate interest among its younger, male fan base. On YouTube, episodes have drawn between 166,000 views (for the second episode of Ellen Page’s “Gaycation”) and 6.3 million (for the premiere of the show “Weediquette”).

While Vice has declined to report TV ratings for Viceland, the company says views online indicate a happy fan base that will help pave the way for success in traditional TV, which promises higher ad revenue.

“Our strategy was to get the episodes out to as many people as possible and as many places as possible, and we got really healthy viewership on all platforms,” Guy Slattery, general manager of Viceland, said in an interview. “Our audience will do the bulk of its viewing on nonlinear platforms.”

Vice says 72 percent of Viceland’s online viewers are between the ages of 18 and 34, and 73 percent are male, an elusive demographic for TV networks with aging audiences. Almost half of the people watching Viceland on Vice’s website have a household income of more than $100,000, according to a fact sheet compiled to demonstrate Brooklyn-based Vice’s digital reach. The music magazine-turned-media giant has released numbers meant to convey total video views, but has declined to break out viewership by episode or platform.

“When people don’t tell you numbers, it’s because they aren’t jumping up and down to promote them,” said Paul Verna, an analyst with eMarketer. “Vice is breaking new ground in going from online to cable. Until we see the numbers for both and how they interrelate, we won’t have a clear sense of how they are doing.”

So far, the most-watched episode on Viceland’s YouTube channel is the premiere of “Weediquette,” a show about marijuana’s growing place in culture. With an average watch time on YouTube of 12 minutes, the 6.3 million views of the hour-long episode come to about 1.6 million views over the past three weeks. Using the same equation, the audience for “Gaycation” is around 465,000 viewers over three weeks.

Networks seldom release full episodes of shows for free on social networks, making comparisons difficult here. Still, none of the Viceland shows approach the online viewership of Fox hits such as “Family Guy,” “Empire,” “Scream Queens” and “Gotham,” all of which top 1.8 million streams on Hulu and Fox’s website (to say nothing of linear TV). They also are smaller than the traditional viewership of “Teen Wolf,” a show squarely aimed at a younger demo that airs on MTV, which Vice Chief Executive Officer Shane Smith has said “imploded.”

Yet Vice’s popularity with young males has attracted the attention of old media companies like 21st Century Fox Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Inc. Fox and Disney have invested in the company, while Time Warner has commissioned Vice to make programming for its premium cable network HBO. That show introduced Vice to an older, affluent TV audience, one Vice hopes to lure to a channel of its own.

Traditional TV is still the most lucrative medium for programming. That’s why Vice, for all its talk about online, wanted a TV network. There are no ads accompanying the full-length episodes online yet, though Vice has made advertising deals for the TV network and online with Unilever and Bank of America.

“TV has amazing reach,” Slattery said. “We’re introducing new audiences to Vice content. It’s too early to evaluate.”

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