Liz Gannes

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Vice’s Shane Smith and CollegeHumor’s Ricky Van Veen Are Kings of All Media

Build a brand and an audience, and you can do whatever you want.

That’s the takeaway from a wild interview with Shane Smith, founder and CEO of Vice Media, and Ricky Van Veen, co-founder of CollegeHumor, which closed out D: Dive Into Media tonight.

ShaneSmithRickyVanVeenBoth are about to release big projects through traditional channels. Smith has a crazy travel show for HBO coming out next month, and Van Veen is finalizing plans to release a movie called “Coffee Town” that’s “an updated ‘Office Space’ for the generation that sits in coffee shops all day and freelances.”

“It’s very highbrow,” Van Veen said, completely facetiously, after a NSFW video clip of three guys sitting around cracking jokes about homophobia.

Both Smith and Van Veen were early to Web video creation — circa 2006 — and have jumped from one medium to another.

“Once you have an audience, you can go anywhere,” as Smith put it, in between anecdotes about a “helmet-headed flesh-eating parasite in my bowels” and his aspirations of earning an “Amadeus wig.” (It’s impossible to capture this performance in words. Watch the video.)

“I make all my money online,” Smith said. “If I can license on TV at pure margin, why wouldn’t I? Quite frankly, if HBO is going to pay me to market my brand, why would I say no?”

What online video can do is help create brands, according to Van Veen. “We think of the Internet as the core IP generator,” he said.

But how do you get to the point where people pay you to do whatever you want? It’s not that easy.

Van Veen said he explored the idea of a digital distribution studio, a la Louis C.K., but decided it wasn’t viable.

“What you realize, after you explore it deep enough, is that anybody that has the pull to get their audience to pay money for something can fund it themselves and can market it themselves, because they probably have the social media presence,” Van Veen said. “And so I didn’t see the room for a studio.”

As for making money online, Smith has found success with YouTube, where Vice is producing 12 channels, up from five last year. He also said that embedding advertising and sponsors into content authentically works. “The only way to circumnavigate the bullshit filters is no bullshit,” is how he put it.

Meanwhile, Van Veen espoused using sponsors to pay for cool stunts. “The stuff that’s done that has the most success is awesome things that would not have happened if the brand had not been here.”

Both men raved about their jobs. IAC bought CollegeHumor in 2006, but Van Veen’s still sticking because he likes the support for creative freedom. Smith reeled off a list of media moguls who have tried to buy Vice, but said he has no interest in losing control. “We’re throwing off more money than I can spend anyway,” he said.


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