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ESPN and Vice Media join forces on programming

ESPN and Vice Media join forces on programming
Vice Media Chief Executive Shane Smith says having ESPN's "30 for 30" on his Viceland cable channel means he can "die a happy man." (Michael Nagle / Los Angeles Times)

Sports TV behemoth ESPN is going to start hanging out with the cool kids at Vice Media.

The two media companies announced Tuesday that they are joining forces in a deal that will provide each with access to the other's programming.

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Vice, which has attracted a strong following among younger media consumers for its edgy storytelling style, will create new programming for the Walt Disney Co.-owned sports media company, which it will share with ESPN's cable network and digital platforms.

In return, Vice will get access to re-air some of the highly acclaimed documentary films from ESPN's "30 for 30" series for airing on its recently launched Viceland cable network.

The companies said they will also collaborate on programs that "look at dominant athletes, fascinating characters and championship events that reside outside the mainstream." They are also developing a short-form animated series.

Current Vice programs will also get exposure on ESPN channels, including the Vice digital series "The Clubhouse," which features athletes presenting their unfiltered views in short videos, and "Vice World of Sports," the weekly Viceland show that examines the relationship between sports and society.

For ESPN, Vice programs offer a way to connect with younger viewers who are eschewing traditional cable subscriptions for online viewing and over-the-top streaming services. While ESPN remains extremely profitable, the slow decline of cable subscribers has cut into what has long been a major revenue source for the network and causing consternation among Wall Street analysts who follow Disney.

But Vice is also pleased with the association with the award-winning "30 for 30" series, based on the statement from the company's typically exuberant co-founder and Chief Executive Shane Smith.

"To be teaming up with ESPN, creating brand new sports shows for them, and then showing '30 for 30's on Viceland is perhaps one of the favorite moments in my professional life," he said. "I can now die a happy man. No, wait, we have to take over the world first! Here it comes baby, Vice World of Sports!!"

ESPN parent company Disney has invested $400 million in Vice Media, giving it a 10% stake in the company. The programming deal gives the Vice brand name broad exposure on ESPN's channels, which reach 86 million cable and satellite homes as well as millions of digital and mobile users.

"Shane and the team at Vice do an extraordinary job presenting stories through their own, very unique lens – and working with them will help to bring a new perspective to our storytelling," said ESPN President John Skipper. "And I applaud Shane for understanding that television is the smartest path to worldwide leadership."

Launched in 1994, Vice grew into a popular destination for young adults through its websites and a weekly news magazine series on HBO.

But over the past year it has been increasing its push into the television business with Viceland, a 24-hour cable channel that airs nonfiction films and programs that focus on travel, food, sports, gaming, fashion and music. The channel is operated in partnership with Disney's A+E Networks.

Vice is also in the process of ramping up a daily news program for HBO that is expected to debut later this year.

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