Cable TV viewers have had a chance to watch Shane Smith and his Vice Media reporters, via an HBO series that’s now in its second season.
But they’re very likely to see a lot more of Vice in the not-so-distant future, and they won’t have to pay for HBO to see it.
Vice’s deal to sell 10 percent of its company to A&E, first reported today in the Financial Times, should mean that the company, best known for its Internet video success, will get its hands on a cable channel it can brand and program.
That’s not the only big move for Smith, Vice’s co-founder, CEO and very visible figurehead. Sources say he is also close to a deal to sell another stake in Vice to investors Technology Crossover Ventures, at the same terms as the A&E deal: $250 million for 10 percent of the company, at a $2.5 billion valuation.
A Vice rep confirmed the A&E deal, but declined to comment further.
The TCV deal should be a straightforward financial investment. But the A&E investment is designed to help Vice further its media ambitions. People familiar with the transaction say it’s a good bet that the company, which previously talked to Time Warner about taking over that company’s HLN network, will end up with one of A&E’s instead.
Which one? A&E, which is co-owned by Disney and Hearst, owns six cable channels that have significant distribution in the U.S. Three of them — A&E, Lifetime and History — are well-established performers for the programmer. And A&E just put significant effort into rebranding Bio into FYI, a lifestyle network, this year.
Both networks have extensive distribution via pay TV providers — LMN reaches 84 million homes, while H2 reaches 68 million, according to Nielsen — but neither are ratings powerhouses, which means A&E might be willing to experiment.
That said, it’s hard to imagine A&E telling the cable TV providers it has signed long-term deals with that it is transforming a women’s entertainment network into a channel that delivers harrowing and edgy news from around the world. H2, which is already delivering reality shows like “Modern Marvels,” would be a much easier switch.