20 October, 2016 | By Robin Parker

Viceland’s UK ratings may not be giving its rivals sleepless nights, but general manager Guy Slattery says that bringing a new angle to broadcasting will reap rewards

Discussions about the international rollout of Viceland, the linear channel of Vice Media, always return to one question: why? Why does this hip, edgy, forward- looking youth brand, which visibly stands to one side of mainstream broadcasters, want to make a counter-intuitive step into old fashioned telly scheduling?

Guy Slattery, the New York-based general manager of the channel, which launched in the UK last month, says it is a “natural evolution” for the platform-agnostic brand, a gap in its portfolio of outlets that needed filling. A daily news show on HBO has, he says, been crucial in exposing audiences to the Vice brand.

Vice’s gonzo founder Shane Smith recently shared with Broadcast his typically blunt mission statement: “I just want to make something that doesn’t suck.” Slattery takes a slightly more conventionally corporate line.

For him, the ambition is two-fold: critical acclaim and cultural impact. Viceland US was only launched in February, but two Emmy nominations swiftly helped it gain credibility.

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Moreover, notes Slattery: “The audience has very quickly aged down – on H2, the channel whose slot we took over, the median age was 58; Viceland’s is now 38. Our sweet spot is a little younger, but that is pretty young for cable TV. “Week after week, the audiences are growing and the passion around the shows is strong. We are actually reaching a new audience that wasn’t finding us online.”

Yet in its first weeks on air in the UK, the channel has been barely a blip on the Barb ratings system. Is there an audience of any age out there to sustain it?

“We weren’t out for a big result in week one,” Slattery says. “We wanted people to go out and find it first – we are looking at it in the long term. We just need to create awareness of Viceland the channel, not the original shows. We’re experimenting and learning from the audience reaction, and will adjust our marketing accordingly.

“You won’t see a multi million pound ad blitz across the country – we will target audiences that have an affinity to us. Positive sentiment is what’s going to drive growth over time. Pay-TV is smaller in the UK than in the US. We are speaking to a smaller base on Sky, but we are really encouraged by the results. We know we need to create more local content. Vice has always done well at creating its own programming.”

VICE MEDIA: FACT FILE

Staff
150

Key execs
Kevin Sutcliffe, Senior vice-president of TV and video programming for Europe
Vida Toombs, Senior vice-president of strategy and operation
Alex Miller, Creative director, EMEA

UK content
60 hours by the end of 2016

Key shows
Needles And Pins; Hate For Beginners

Vice makes its own content out of its Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and London offices, with a goal for 20% of content in each category to be locally made; the same will be true of its upcoming France and Australia offshoots. The ambition is for these shows to air in each of the territories. “It’s very global content and our audience is very globally minded,”

 

Slattery says. “A show might be made in the US, but it will have elements or episodes filmed internationally. We think shows made in the UK will play just as well here in LA. Everything always has a very global sensibility.”

blog_2016_guy_02

 

Key shows
Needles And Pins; Hate For Beginners

Vice makes its own content out of its Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and London offices, with a goal for 20% of content in each category to be locally made; the same will be true of its upcoming France and Australia offshoots. The ambition is for these shows to air in each of the territories. “It’s very global content and our audience is very globally minded,”

Slattery says. “A show might be made in the US, but it will have elements or episodes filmed internationally. We think shows made in the UK will play just as well here in LA. Everything always has a very global sensibility.”

Jamali Maddix’s Hate For Beginners

The first phase of UK shows includes tattoo series Needles And Pins and comedian Jamali Maddix’s Hate For Beginners. The UK team is now firmly in place, Slattery says, and will be looking to mirror further the US channel’s mix of investigations and comedic, occasionally celebrity-led, factual and scripted shows. Commissioning indies is for a later stage; the priority right now is building an in-house catalogue.

Hard news is as important as entertainment to the UK mix, he adds. “Those stories we believe matter to young people that are not covered by the mainstream, like global warming, are a passion for Vice. This is a young company with young editorial staff and that reflects the topics and the treatment.

“The daily news shows on other networks haven’t really changed their format in 20 years – ours understands that people have already found the news but the show can add context and subjective and interesting news.”

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Needles And Pins

Viceland’s approach is to start with small orders – around six episodes is typical – then double them if online activity and word of mouth suggests a recommission is in order. US launch shows including Weediquette, States Of Undress and Fuck, That’s Delicious have all earned second runs.

It is taking its biggest punt on a late night daily satirical show from comedians Desus and Mero. Up to 200 episodes are planned per year, including a live alternative election night show. Provisionally titled The Election Shit Show, it will, Slattery says, be “counter programming to the US networks – they will comment on what is going down on other networks, from 8pm till midnight. If it doesn’t get called by then, we will keep going.”

Indeed, the trick throughout the schedule as a whole, he says, is not to be too rigid, but to offer a consistency of attitude. “We don’t have must-see appointment- viewing drama so it’s about creating the right mix,” he says. “People just come and watch a bunch of shows. Our stickiness of viewers is one of the highest in US cable.”

Vice’s spirit of disruption finds its way into its thinking about how scheduled TV is viewed too. With echoes of MTV’s pioneering early days, Slattery says Viceland is scoring well in terms of ad-break viewing, thanks to a set of on-brand interstitials featuring talent from across the station and behind the camera.

For Slattery, Viceland’s success ultimately lies in it slotting into Vice’s raft of media platforms. Effectively, it is one more option for breaking new talent.

“Sometimes that will be a web series or a Snapchat show, or just an article on a website. If we want to try someone out, we might give them an online format. But you might meet someone and say, ‘they need to go straight onto TV’. The best things live on all those platforms, and the voice of Viceland lies in letting interesting people say it and getting out of the way.”

Broacastnow.co.uk

Viceland

Guy Slattery will be a panel member at PromaxBDA UK’s Conference, The New Normal, next month.

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