If there were a Grammy category for best rock vocal performance by a chief executive, Vice Media's Shane Smith would win it walking away.
Smith delivered an unexpectedly rousing performance of Sham 69's "If the Kids Are United" at his youth-oriented digital media company's "newfront" presentation held Friday at Manhattan's Chelsea Piers. The crowd of ad buying executives and high profile onlookers (including former New York Times editor-in-chief Jill Abramson and one-time Viacom chief executive Tom Freston) was likely expecting the usual data points and sizzle reels of new programs often used at such events to attract ad dollars.
But after a brief poetry reading and a few rambling comments, including an admission that he'd "had a few ales" before taking the stage, Smith abruptly joined an all-star house band that included Nick Zinner and Brian Chase of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Jaleel Bunton of TV on the Radio, and producer Money Mark.
The roguish media mogul assigned most of the business chatter to executives in the crowd who were given white Colonial-style wigs to wear so they could be easily identified. But before he rocked out, Smith did tout the young audience that is watching Vice's new cable network Viceland, a venture with A+E Networks.
Viceland features documentary style programming aimed at millennials, including such shows as "Gaycation," a exploration of gay culture around the world with actress Ellen Page, and "F---, That's Delicious," a food show with rapper and former chef Action Bronson.
Smith said in just 67 days after launching, Viceland experienced the "fastest aging down of a network in the history of television." Translation: Viceland is attracting a much younger audience than the cable network that occupied its channel space, H2, which was an off-shoot of The History Channel.
It remains a mystery how many viewers are watching Viceland as Vice and A+E Networks are not releasing Nielsen ratings data during its first six months on the air.
CNN President Jeff Zucker recently shared numbers from Nielsen-rated overnight markets that showed Viceland dropping dramatically from the H2's viewing levels among the 25 to 54 age group. Cable network format changes always chase away loyal viewers of the previous occupant. Viceland targets a younger demographic than H2, which had an average audience age in the mid-50s.
Vice Media said it has gotten early support for Viceland from the advertising community which is eager to reach young adult viewers who don't spend a lot of time with traditional television. Major companies such as Unilever, Samsung, Bank of America, Toyota, T-Mobile, and Diageo have signed on.
Smith also said that Vice will launch up to 20 new TV channels around the world, following the recent network deals in the U.S., Canada, the UK.. and France.