At the same time Time Warner is jettisoning its old media assets by spinning off Time Inc., the media giant may be looking to buy a stake in Vice Media Group, the renegade digital news operation that does both serious and satirical journalism.
According to Sky News, Time Warner is in advanced talks to become an owner of Vice. Neither Time Warner or Vice would comment.
Founded by Shane Smith, Vice started as a magazine aimed at the offbeat and quirky side of life. It then built an online unit and prided itself on being a rogue outfit of journalists. It also has an advertising agency and book publishing unit.
Vice moved beyond ad-magazine status with “Heavy Metal in Baghdad,” a 2007 documentary about an Iraqi metal band trying to survive in a war zone. Its online news and travel pieces have been critically acclaimed for their raw and gripping approach.
At the same time, the company also still embraces the absurd with pieces such as one on large derrieres in Brazil.
The company has become a darling of media industry insiders. Former MTV chief Tom Freston serves as an advisor as does Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel of WME Entertainment. Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox also owns a 5% stake in Vice.
Vice has more than 30 offices around the world and last year had revenues in the neighborhood of $200 million, according to people familiar with the closely held company.
The Sky News story said one scenario would have Time Warner folding its HLN cable network into Vice Media. HLN, once called Headline News, has struggled to reinvent itself. It currently carries a steady diet of tabloid and trial coverage.
Smith has in the past dismissed the idea of giving up control of his company and working for someone else. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times last year, Smith said, “the idea of sitting in a boardroom and dealing with lawyers all day does not appeal to myself,” he said. “I hang out with a lot of ex-CEOs and 100% of the time they say the saddest day of their life was when they sold their company.”
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.