Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Meet Vice Media Boss Shane Smith, Rupert Murdoch’s “Wild” New Pal

shane smithMove over, David Karp — you’re not the only Williamsburg dude with a billion-dollar new-media company anymore.

A new investment from Rupert Murdoch values Shane Smith’s Vice Media, the edgy-but-not-too-edgy media conglomerate, at $1.4 billion. As the Financial Times reported yesterday, Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox now owns a five percent stake in Vice, which does everything from magazines to Web series to HBO series.

The funding caused a little ripple among media folks, some of whom made the requisite comparisons to the New York Times (market cap: $1.7 billion) and the Washington Post (a mere $250 million). But, in retrospect, this one shouldn’t be surprising.

For starters, Rupert Murdoch, like many big-media bosses, has been intrigued by Vice and its pitch — Hello, young free-thinking but still-spending-disposable-income folks! We totally get you, and we are not your parents’ media company! — for some time.


And while the billion-dollar mark tends to get people’s attention, the truth is that Vice was already very close to that. Prior to Murdoch, investors had put money into Vice at something like a $900 million valuation.

In any case, it’s easy to understand Vice’s appeal to Murdoch and other big-media guys. The Brooklyn-based company does make stuff the young’uns like. And, just as crucially, they have a business model that old-media guys understand. That is: Vice is basically, and unapologetically, an ad agency that gets people like Intel to pay them a lot of money to produce content.

It also helps that Shane Smith is an awesome character. He’s a hard-living (when I emailed with him last night, he told me he was typing his reply from Kandahar), hard-partying (“I like food and I like booze“) dude who is very smart about employing that persona to maximum effect.

You can get a sense of that here, via the chat I had with him and CollegeHumor founder Ricky Van Veen, at our D: Dive Into Media conference in February. He’s the dude with the beard and the vodka.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik