Vice Media Group Chief Operating Officer Hosi Simon (above right) in conversation with Lee Williamson, Editor of Generation T Asia and Director of Tatler Asia Lists, during the Asian Media Leaders eSummit.
By Alysha Chandra
In his keynote address at the Asian Media Leaders eSummit, Vice Media Group Chief Operating Officer Hosi Simon revealed the group’s ambitions in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region with Vice World News, the latest retooling of their news operations.
“We’re looking to partner with as many TV platforms as we possibly can, as well as all the streaming platforms across Asia. If you have stories to tell, we’re here to tell them with you,” Simon said in a session with Lee Williamson, Editor of Generation T Asia and Director of Tatler Asia Lists.
Importance of APAC market
With more than 60 percent of Vice’s audience outside of North America, Simon said that APAC is an important market for the group because of its size but also because the audience is young, hungry and increasingly cares about global issues like climate change, freedom of speech and extremist movements.
“I won’t sit here and say we’ll be the biggest newsroom in Malaysia or Thailand tomorrow. But I can say we’ll have reporters on the ground and partner with people in just about every country we can think of that has interesting stories to tell,” – Hosi Simon, Vice Media
Simon was quick to clarify, however, that Vice World News would not promote any regional agenda, but would tell stories from a local and global perspective.
“What you’ll never find from Vice is someone going to a place and reporting back as an outsider. Ultimately, it’s about bringing the voice of what is happening in that country to the rest of the world,” he said.
Simon said Vice has fared well during its 25-year journey by pushing into new forms of storytelling, adding that the group anticipated the limited growth of digital revenue a few years ago and has since diversified, with their digital segment now making up less than 30 percent of the business.
Citing the paradigm shifts driven by COVID-19 and the accelerating polarisation across the world, Simon said he believes people are increasingly divided by age as opposed to political ideology.
“If we are unapologetically on the side of a young person in this world, with that comes a big shift of how to tell stories and how we distribute them to reach young people,” he said.
According to Simon, Vice’s research shows that over 86 percent of the people who consume their news on social media don’t trust this news, but over 90 percent trust Vice News.
The group has won the trust of young people by not talking down to them, he said.
“We’ve never thought of our audience as someone who needs to be educated by us. We don’t have an agenda. We go somewhere, turn the camera on, let the story tell itself and put a ton of trust on the audience to make up their minds,” – Hosi Simon, Vice Media
Vice has also done this by creating a young and diverse newsroom that resembles their audience, Simon said, with diversity on every level, from pitching to production and editing.
“When people see our content, they see that it’s made by someone like them,” he said.
‘A company with 100 front doors’
Simon acknowledged the challenges publishers face in working with social media platforms but Vice has done well by working with platforms on a “deep partnership” level and being first movers on new platforms.
“I often think of Vice as a company with 100 front doors. It doesn’t matter to me where someone first builds a relationship with us, it is just important that they find a door. And we want to have as many doors as we possibly can to draw them into our world,” he said.
Simon advised publishers to think beyond just bringing their content onto platforms.
“Every platform deserves its own approach and has its own culture and audience. It is important to think of those as self-contained universes you build a community on,” – Hosi Simon, Vice Media
With TikTok, he said Vice is excited to embark on a “guerrilla journalism project” and looking for young people doing interesting things on the platform, helping them put editorial and journalistic standards around their content and bringing them into the Vice Media Group ecosystem.
Advantages of being global
Vice’s branded integrated marketing proposition is supported by the fact that the company operates globally, Simon said, allowing them to read headwinds differently and diversify across the company when one part of the world is in trouble and the other is rising.
“This was particularly clear during COVID, where the countries in Asia were hit much earlier, which was immensely helpful for us to see how we react to that and what the advertising market is doing,” he said.
The company’s other lines of business also allow for an intellectual property (IP) flywheel, with Vice Studio’s political thriller the Report on Amazon and Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix both originating from Vice News stories. Insights that Vice journalists gain from their audience feed into the company’s agency business, Virtue, which is the European lead creative agency for IKEA and other leading brands.
With their production company, Pulse, the group also launched the series Gangs of London on Sky in the United Kingdom, which recently announced distribution across Europe and into the United States.
“To anyone listening in the audience or who comes across this, we’re open to partnerships, whether it’s co-productions or co-promotions and ultimately taking local stories that somebody deeply cares about and giving them a global purview and distribution. So, get in touch,” Simon said.
About the author: Alysha Chandra is a third-year student at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.