Nancy Dubuc is officially taking the reins at Vice.
The former A+E Networks chief will be stepping in as CEO, filling a role long assumed by co-founder Shane Smith. The announcement comes as the new media company — which includes a linear cable channel partnership with Dubuc’s A+E networks, which granted her a seat on Vice’s board — has found itself embroiled in #MeToo era turmoil amid allegations of sexual harassment and pay inequity that has seen top executives exit. Recognizing the value of having a female at the helm and already having a short-hand with Dubuc, a vocal advocate for women in Hollywood, Smith is said to have recruited her to the top position. He will remain involved as executive chairman.
Said Smith, “Why Nancy Dubuc? Simply put, because rarely in business do you get to work in a perfect partnership. First off, she is better than me at everything. Second, it allows me to move to Executive Chairman, where I can concentrate on the only things that I am good at – content and deals. Thirdly, as we go forward VICE needs a best-in-class management team to harness all of this growth and control our own destiny, whether it be staying independent, strategically partnering with someone or going public. Lastly, I get to work with one of my best friends and media heroes. We are a modern day Bonnie and Clyde and we are going to take all your money.”
Those who believed Dubuc would remain at the cable giant where she had not only made her name but also spent the bulk of her career have not been paying attention. In recent months, her hat had been in the ring at Amazon, where she was in contention for the top studio job, which ultimately went to Jennifer Salke. Per insiders, the public nature of her wandering eye didn’t sit well with the A+E board, with whom she had been negotiating a new contract. In the end, Dubuc opted to resign and take a potentially more lucrative gig at Vice, assuming that the equity she was given translates to big money. Though given the challenges at the Brooklyn-based company, that’s hardly a sure thing. (According to two sources, the A+E board was caught off guard by the Vice news, which didn’t sit well either.)
“Shane and the team at Vice have done what all of us aspire to do – build a brand and make content that people really care about,” Dubuc noted in a statement. “Vice speaks to a generation that defines today’s cultural conversation, and the opportunity to partner with all of the incredibly creative people across the entire company was one of those rare moments in a career. As the next chapter of media is written by founders such as Shane and Suroosh, it’s an honor to join a brand with such tremendous opportunity and I look forward to growing the platform for decades to come.”
The timing of Dubuc’s news comes not only as her current contract approaches its conclusion but also as the linear cable business faces increased challenges in the peak TV era. Dubuc has ridden that tide for several years now, having served as CEO at A+E since 2013. Her gut for programming, outspoken style and confidence have made her one of the most effective and easily one of the most candid and visible executives in the industry, which makes her a good fit for Vice.
Indeed, during her tenure, Dubuc moved swiftly to successfully rebranded multiple networks in the A+E portfolio, notably History, which has also become a scripted destination with dramatic fare including Vikings and military entry Six. And as ownership became increasingly critical in the longtail content universe, she also launched A+E Studios, the company’s longform production unit, which now produces Six and 2016’s Roots remake, Lifetime’s Unreal and History drama Knightfall. Her time at the cable giant also was defined by the ways in which she expanded the brand’s footprint, especially with digital and new media partnerships.
It was in late 2015 that Dubuc oversaw the joint venture agreement with Vice Media that launched Viceland in 2016 and led to a 20 percent stake in the one-time content darling. Despite heavy hype, the network has struggled to draw broad linear ratings for its slate of younger-skewing programming. In her new role, Dubuc will have her work cut out for her, both at the network and the larger company, which counts Disney and Fox among its investors. Indeed, Vice Media has come under fire of late for cultivating a “boy’s club” environment that has allegedly led to a toxic workplace culture for female employees. In late 2017, The New York Times published an in-depth look at the environment at the Brooklyn-based company, which included several allegations of sexual harassment. More recently, Vice became the subject of a class action lawsuit alleging systemic pay disparity.
Dubuc addressed some of those issues facing the company at a recent Code Conference. Though she acknowledged that the company has work to do, she pointed to the creation of a female-led diversity and inclusion advisory council, which counts Gloria Steinem among its members, as an example of Vice making real changes. “I don’t think they’re alone. They bro-y culture is pervasive in our business,” she said from stage, adding that Vice is also working to achieve pay parity. “I will give hats off to them for actually coming out and forming [the council] with a very impressive rose.” She noted, too, that change “doesn’t happen overnight.”
While much has been made about the declining health of the cable market, Dubuc is joining at a rocky time for digital media companies, too. Both Vice and BuzzFeed were said to have missed revenue projections last year amid heated competition for digital ad dollars from tech giants Facebook and Google. At one time, Smith spoke openly to the media about plans to take Vice public, but such talk has cooled in recent months. With revenue growth slowing, the $5.7 billion company would likely need to cut costs and focus on becoming profitable to become an attractive acquisition target.
Smith co-founded Vice in the mid-1990s with Suroosh Alvi and Gavin McInnes, who is no longer involved in the company and now runs far-right men’s group The Proud Boys, as an alternative magazine in Montreal that focused on punk culture, music and recreational drug use. After Smith moved the company’s headquarters to New York, the magazine went through several years of ups and downs until 2006, when Spike Jonze joined as creative director and Vice made a push into digital video with the launch of VBS.tv, a joint venture with MTV. The company’s video portfolio has expanded in the years since to encompass two shows for HBO and Viceland, which is known for such shows as What Would Diplo Do? and Balls Deep.
Over the years, Smith has cultivated a reputation as the brash, smooth-talking spokesman for Vice and regularly makes headlines for his outsized lifestyle. In 2015, it was reported that he spent $300,000 for dinner at Prime Steakhouse in Las Vegas during CES. When he moved his wife and daughters to Los Angeles a few years ago, it was largely viewed as a realigning of his priorities toward Vice’s video efforts and away from day-to-day operations at Vice’s Brooklyn headquarters.
Until Dubuc’s replacement at A+E Networks is found, her predecessor, Abbe Raven, will return to the role in which she, too, enjoyed significant if much lower-profile success. She’s already back at the A+E office and is expected to present at the company’s upfront. Raven has made clear she isn’t interested in remaining at A+E long term, so expect top level executives at the company to throw their names in the hat.
Shane Smith’s memo to staff is below:
As many of you have read, I have been in discussions with my friend, my partner, and board member Nancy Dubuc, to join the VICE family and become my successor as CEO.
While we tried our damnedest to have everything signed, sealed and delivered before sharing it with you and with the rest of the world, we seemingly can’t take a crap in this town without it leaking to the press. Of course, as the bellwether for the modern media age, we should be no stranger to the rumors and speculation.
Today we put this speculation to rest and turn our focus toward executing our growth plans to maintain our hegemonic place atop the new media landscape which, in turn, will give us the ability to control our own destiny.
As founders, we take pride in the fact that we built an institution with some level of permanence, and while VICE has a strong foundation for the future, we realize that we need help for the next phase of our growth. We need to surround ourselves with the right people so our company, and our thousands of employees globally, can flourish.
In looking for a professional CEO, we are in need of one who can master; the content world, the digital world, the business world, and who is at the same time an operator extraordinaire. These people are obviously few and far between, but I believe we have
found the absolute best in class with Nancy.
Nancy and I have spent much time deliberating on the best way for us to partner up in a shared mission of maximizing the great potential this company holds. She believes in VICE, she believes in our mission, and she believes in all of you. Nancy has clearly proven herself with her stewardship of A&E Networks. As a partner, she’s helped grow VICELAND internationally and into the second fastest growing network in all of US cable among our audience.
Since joining our board, Nancy has been a trusted confidante whose every recommendation is driven by making the best programming possible. She has the rare combination of business and content chops, and an unparalleled record in running the daily operations of a sprawling global media company like our own.
A lot of people have been asking me what this means for me personally. Well, I have always said that I am good at two things, 1) creating content and 2) making deals, so that’s what I’m going to do. I will focus my energy on raising the bar for our content, and will serve as Executive Chairman of the Board.
Again, as I always say “I’Union fait la Force” or “together we are stronger.” This marks a new period in VICE’s history that will make us infinitely stronger. Nancy will run the company day to day from New York and we will work lock step with our partners, management, employees and board in making sure that VICE maintains its position as the leader of new media, and delivers on its commitment to 50/50 by 2020 as we work to become the most progressive workplace in the world.
This Friday we will be hosting a town hall in Brooklyn to welcome Nancy and introduce her to all of you. I hope that you will welcome her to the company with the same enthusiasm and open arms that I have.