Walt Disney doubles Vice stake as television expansion looms

Investment estimated at $200m comes as Vice is set to launch US cable TV network with UK and European channels also likely

Walt Disney has doubled its stake in Vice Media, the edgy, youth-focused media group, in a deal that takes its stake to 10% and values the group at $4bn (£2.6bn).

According to sources familiar with the situation, Walt Disney is said to have paid $200m for its additional 5% stake.

The new investment comes as Vice continues to roll out new products across the globe and is to launch a cable TV network in the US next year.

The network is to be run under the auspices of A+E Networks, which Disney co-owns with Hearst, while the group is also to launch a five-day-a-week newscast on Time Warner’s HBO. In addition it is planning an aggressive expansion into European television next year.

The plans come despite co-founder Shane Smith having claimed that young people are leaving TV in droves.

Smith started Vice in 1994 in Montreal, Canada, as a weekly alternative magazine but has transformed it over the last 20 years into a multimedia success story.

It has attracted a prestigious group of high profile media investors in the last few years. Technology Crossover Ventures, an equity fund focused on high growth technology ventures, invested $250m at the same time as A+E Networks in 2014 and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox took a 5% stake in the business in 2013.

WPP, the advertising giant, is also reported to have a shareholding and the company, which is on track to make $1bn in revenues this year, has been a constant subject of takeover speculation.

Speaking to the Guardian earlier this month, chief executive Smith said the group was in “fast and furious” talks with everyone from Netflix to ITV, Sky and Discovery about launching TV channels across the UK and Europe in the next 12 to 18 months.

Walt Disney shares were hit last month when it emerged that its ESPN channel, which charges premium fees for its live sports coverage, had lost 3 million subscribers in a year.


David Hellier

The GuardianTramp

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