LOS ANGELES • Vice Media, one of the most highly valued American media start-ups, is expanding in Asia with new offices and partnerships with leading media companies and advertisers as it seeks a larger piece of the region's US$18-billion (S$25-billion) market for online video.
The producer of provocative shows about youth culture and global politics is opening an Asia-Pacific base of operations in Singapore (a country where large quantities of marijuana, a favourite Vice topic, are punishable by death). Vice will also expand its subscription video-on-demand service into at least six new markets, including India and Thailand, according to a statement.
The company has earned a valuation in excess of US$5 billion by convincing advertisers, media companies and investors of its unique ability to make videos that appeal to young viewers. HBO commissioned Vice to produce a daily news show, along with a weekly news magazine. Walt Disney Co has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the company.
Under pressure to keep growing ahead of a potential initial public offering, Vice is striking deals with some of the largest media companies in Asia, which has a large and growing youth population.
In Malaysia, Vice will license TV shows and create multi-platform programming for Media Prima. In Indonesia, Jawa Pos TV will air episodes from Vice's cable network and news show, as well as digital programmes.
Home to more than half of the world's population, Asia tantalises the world's largest media companies. 21st Century Fox, Sony and Viacom have chased movie riches in China, the second-largest market in terms of box-office sales, while buying up TV networks in India.
With a new generation of consumers watching video on their phones, analysts estimate the market for online video will expand to US$46 billion by 2022.
"We believe there is a huge opportunity for Vice to build out a deeply relevant, highly local, youth media company across the Asia-Pacific region," Mr Hosi Simon, Vice's new chief executive officer for the region, said in a statement. He was previously global general manager for New York-based Vice, which will offer programming in more than 80 territories by next year.
His task will be to build relationships in a region that has bedevilled many Western companies. Walt Disney, Netflix, Alphabet and Facebook have all run into issues of censorship and other regulatory headaches. Vice founder Shane Smith has already managed to smuggle his way into North Korea for a documentary project.
The most visible star on Viceland, the company's cable network, is Action Bronson, a flame-haired rapper with a passion for food.
Vice's news operation has earned rave reviews for segments on white supremacists and radical Islamic terrorists. The company will supply episodes of its nightly newscast to a broadcaster in Indonesia, where the alliance of independent journalists reported 78 violent attacks on journalists last year.
"Our bread and butter at Vice has always been producing authentic local content for young people in an area, by young people in that area," the company said in a statement. "It's this on-the-ground style that allows us to push boundaries and explore real news and culture in a place, while also being respectful to the local customs and laws."