By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor
Vice, a media company known for its untraditional approach to journalism, has started a new program that is, in some ways, wholly traditional—a half hour news program.
Vice News Tonight premiered on HBO on and Viceland in Canada on Oct. 10. The show is a mix of the short documentaries that people have come to know from Vice as well as a daily news package in the beginning of the program. Vice’s team is hoping the mix appeals to a younger audience.
Vice declined to give J-Source specific numbers on viewership so far, but spokesperson Chris Ball said that the show has “gained traction quickly.” A Bloomberg report in March found that people were viewing Viceland documentaries more online than on the TV channel itself. So why invest in a show formatted for television viewership?
Michael Gruzuk, director of news, digital and special programming, spoke with J-Source about why Vice is investing in a newscast and how they plan to reach their audience. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
J-Source: The idea is that Vice News Tonight is really geared towards millennials So how do you approach it differently than say a traditional news broadcast?
Michael Gruzuk: I come from the world of traditional news broadcast so I can tell you that in many ways it’s totally different, because the stories are not intended to be responsive to the daily machinations in the news industry. We try to get at stories in a very traditional Vice way, which is coming in sort of backwards or sideways and telling stories about the people and the places at the center of the issues. On Thursday night, instead of playing a bunch of clips about border issues from Trump, we went down to sections of the Mexico-U.S. border that already have a fence and talked to people about how the fence actually does or doesn’t change the concerns around illegal migrants moving across the border.
So your question is, “How does that reach through to millennials?” No one can say in one statement what they want. But we do know that there is an interest in anything that feels authentic or raw or real. I don’t think it’s just millennials. I think it’s just as a media society we are so accustomed to and suspicious of filtering. Vice News is clearly processing by active story selection and story execution but we feel strongly that audience’s desire something to feel a little bit more real; a little bit more visceral. We’re not always telling people how to feel and what to think. I don’t think that’s just unique to Vice News. We’re seeing a lot of media organizations try to shift the craft and shift the voice of the journalism to make sure that it’s as honest and real as possible.
J-Source: A lot of people who started watching Vice documentaries started watching them on YouTube. For the news show, do you see it as a challenge to get viewers to then sit down and watch a half hour show that’s a couple of different stories? How do you get people to cross over into watching a new format?
M.G.: We’re going into television because a lot of people are still watching television—but we’re not measuring it exclusively based on whether the content is viewed on HBO or Viceland, because all of the content that we put on the nightly show is then re-released online. If people move back and forth, if they only watch the newscast once a week or once a month, then they’re still accessing the content however they want. That’s a relationship with our news content and that’s what matters to us most of all. And that’s what matters to Viceland and HBO as well.
I’d like to think that Vice News is there as a source about how to makes sense of the world.
A challenge that a lot of newscasts have had over the last 10 years is that when they would release their reporter packages online, they wouldn’t be viewed with as great frequency as video that was more geared to an online viewing habit—partly because traditional news stories were packets with a lot of voiceover, not heavy on strong visuals. What’s interesting with the Vice News Tonight is the (stories are) heavier on visuals. They’re almost designed out of the gate to be broken up and seen as individual digital video pieces.
J-Source: If you’re building this audience across platforms how do you how do you actually monetize that?
M.G.: It’s obviously a pretty complex and growing company. So there are a lot of different sources of revenue that Vice has developed. We have a lot of content that appears on YouTube. We have a lot of it that is owned and operated native video within our own sites and obviously we can monetize that with pre-rolls and banner ads. Increasingly we have videos that are exclusive to the site as well to maintain our video traffic. But this is a challenge everyone is facing. Obviously we’ve all been facing it for years with the proliferation of video on Facebook. So that comes back to what I was saying about building that relationship and knowing that we’re a source, because ultimately we do want people to come and consume more information through our site and through our different television shows. But we’re growing. We’re very young compared to a lot of legacy media organizations. So we’re still trying to just be where the audience is and and hopefully hook them with our style of journalism.
J-Source: Looking at a year from now, where would you like Vice News broadcast to be?
M.G.: The goal is that it’s something that people with more frequency feel like they need. You know I think that that’s the challenge—nobody needs another newscast. Nobody needs this show. We know that. But that’s why we’re trying to drive value into it through storytelling and story selection, so that it becomes something that you didn’t realize that you need. And I think that that is a tremendous challenge that we’re up for, because so far Vice News across the board has seen success in a very crowded media landscape so it tells us that there very well may be a need there.