The digital publishing industry, which expanded rapidly during the online video boom but has since been struggling to deliver on the lofty promises sold to its VC and corporate backers, just can’t catch a break.
Following mass layoffs at Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, Gannett and Verizon Media Group last week, Vice Media has become the latest trendy new media darling to announce deep cuts to staffing levels.
The Hollywood Reporter reported Friday morning that the cuts will impact around 250 people, and are part of new CEO Nancy Dubuc’s “strategic plan” to cut back on spending and “achieve profitability.” The cuts, which will be distributed across “all departments at every level”, will total roughly 10% of the company’s workforce.
Around 250 jobs are expected to be cut, a company spokeswoman tells The Hollywood Reporter, as the 2,500-person Vice reduces redundancies internationally and reorients to focus on growth areas like film and television production and branded content. All departments at every level are expected to have layoffs, from IT to finance to television.
As part of the “strategic restructuring”, the company is pivoting away from online publishing and focusing more on television, film and branded content.
“Having finalized the 2019 budget, our focus shifts to executing our goals and hitting our marks,” CEO Nancy Dubuc wrote in a memo sent to staff on Friday morning that was shared with THR. “We will make Vice the best manifestation of itself and cement its place long into the future.”
The cuts were widely expected. Dubuc, who is the first outside CEO in the company’s 25-year history, was brought in to replace founder Shane Smith, who has retreated into the role of executive chairman. One of Dubuc’s chief duties is reining in the aggressive global growth that occurred under Smith as Vice transformed from a Montreal-based punk magazine to a global digital media darling.
Dubuc, in an October interview with THR, was forthcoming about her plans to reorient Vice for the future and tighten its spending in order to put it on a path to profitability, acknowledging that she was “not going to rule out more” layoffs at the company. Vice last year implemented a hiring freeze and attempted to reduce some of its workforce through attrition but once executives finalized the strategic plan for the year, they made the decision to complete most of the cuts through layoffs.
Dubuc, the former A+E chief, became CEO of Vice at the end of May, taking over for the company’s brash founder Shane Smith who announced in March that he would step back into the role of executive chairman. As the first outside CEO at the 25-year-old company, she is now tasked with helping it live up to the high expectations surrounding its $5.7 billion valuation and more than $1 billion in investments from the likes of Fox, Disney and TPG.
One of Dubuc’s first projects was setting a plan that would bring order to the chaos that was created during the years when Vice transformed from a Montreal punk magazine to a global media organization. Chasing growth, Smith aggressively took Vice into new markets, opening up offices in nearly 40 countries and striking deals for linear and mobile content with media companies in every major region.
In what will come as welcome news to staffers – particularly after Buzzfeed’s staff has spent the last week complaining to anybody who would listen about how the company has opted not to compensate departing employees for unused PTO – Vice said it will pay out PTO and 10 weeks severance and health care to its employees.
Employees affected in the U.S., U.K. and Canada are expected to be notified today. The remainder of the cuts will take place over the coming weeks. Vice, whose employees recently ratified new contracts via WGA East, will pay out employee PTO and 10 weeks of severance and medical benefits in the U.S. Global separation packages will vary based on the country.
After Disney took a $157 million writedown on its Vice stake in November, the company’s other investors are growing antsy for it to find a buyer as the company remains unprofitable despite bringing in between $600 million and $650 million in revenue last year. In an encouraging sign about the potential for its films unit, Vice snagged around $14 million from Amazon for the Adam Driver drama “The Report” at Sundance this past week.
But Vice’s bottom line aside, we can’t help but wonder if the New York Times will publish another op-ed where then paper’s columnist labels the Vice layoffs “Devastating for Democracy.”