Viceland Is Shaking Up TV Advertising by Running More Native Ads That Look Editorial

Vice and A+E Networks' new channel reduces ad load

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Vice Media unleashed its first linear network on Monday night, launching Viceland, its new channel with A+E Networks. Featuring an eclectic lineup curated by Viceland creative director Spike Jonze, the network is taking a new approach to lure millennials back to TV. "We're trying to make this organism that's alive. … You turn it on, and it comes into your house like water," Jonze told reporters in January

Viceland is shaking things up on the advertising side as well, reducing ad loads with an emphasis on native advertising, which Vice creates to look more like editorial content.  

While other companies are trying to adapt to the changing TV landscape on the fly—Turner recently announced plans to trim ad loads for truTV and new TNT dramas—Viceland is trying to build a better mousetrap from the ground up. As it replaced the former H2 network, "we realized we had an opportunity because we were starting from scratch as a network to shake up the ad approach in a couple of ways," said Guy Slattery, general manager for Viceland.

"You've seen all the big networks talk about reducing ad loads, but in reality, they find it difficult to do that because they have 16 minutes [of ads per hour] and every time they reduce it, it's taking money out of their pocket," said Slattery. "So we built the business model from the get-go to have a reduced ad load." Viceland programming will have just eight minutes of national ad time per hour and two minutes of local time.

In addition to running fewer ads, Viceland will be changing the look of those ads. "We really want to replace the 30-second spot when we can. We know it's important, but we want to do more of a custom, native advertising approach that works on-air but also across platforms. Vice has always been more successful when it's done native advertising and interesting custom partnerships with brands, and then you extend that idea to this TV network also," said Slattery.

Viceland is hoping to have native ads as half its ad inventory within the year. "That would be the goal," Slattery said. "I know that advertisers have 30-second spots that they've created and put a lot of work into, and they're part of a national campaign. And we definitely want to include those, but a lot of other times, we want to create something custom for them that they can then run alongside their 30-second spot. It places it in a better environment and much more likely to be viewed, and much more likely to have higher recall, which we think is better for them in the long-term."

Those native ads could run anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Slattery said some advertisers could choose to take up a whole pod, perhaps running a 30-second ad alongside a native ad. "For other advertisers, we'll create a 30-second custom thing that is a lot shorter and can run in more breaks," he said.

Vice and A+E Networks' ad sales teams are working together on Viceland. "They're joined at the hip and doing presentations and meetings and working on it together," Slattery said. "Vice is really driving all the custom and cross-platform stuff."

Right now, Viceland isn't available as part of any larger ad buys across A+E Networks."The pricing model is different for Viceland in part due to its reduced ad load, and that would have to be taken into account," said Slattery, adding that none of A+E Networks' deals with H2 advertisers have moved over to Viceland. "It's a new model and we're starting with a new roster of advertisers."

Viceland's launch partners include Unilever, Bank of America, Samsung, Johnnie Walker maker Diageo, T-Mobile, watch and apparel maker Shinola, Bushmills whiskey, MailChimp and Toyota. "Our strategy at launch was to go to a few key partners—all of them have existing relationships with Vice—and get them on as launch partners," Slattery said. "We promised them an exclusive launch period, where there would really be not too many brands and some of them could be exclusive in their categories."

More advertisers will be added in the coming weeks and months. "We started relatively late," said Slattery, noting that Viceland wasn't announced until November. "Some of these [deals] are more complicated with more creative elements. They just take a bit longer to get done than your traditional spot buy."

Ratings blackout

While Viceland launched on Monday, its ratings will remain under wraps for six months due to an agreement the network struck with Nielsen. Slattery said Viceland content is available on the website, app and VOD in addition to linear, but Nielsen's numbers would only reflect Viceland's linear ratings. "It's an important metric, but it only captures one piece of the multiplatform approach that we have," he said. "So we didn't want to make it all about that. The headlines tend to go to Nielsen ratings, and we don't feel they're going to capture the viewing of this network, particularly among the demo that we're going after. It's about us having a better understanding of who's watching on what platforms and where, and not just focusing on one. We don't want to make it public until we have a fuller picture of our viewing."

Nielsen said its agreement with Viceland was a standard request for many new networks, who wish to keep ratings private for several months as they get their bearings. "It's very typical that when clients of ours start a new channel, they want to have internal data to review prior to it being released," said Peter Bradbury, managing director, national TV client solutions at Nielsen. "They want to get their heads around how their own programming is performing so they can get their own executives up to speed. It also informs from a marketing standpoint how they're going to position themselves and in their ad sales process. It's much more common that they go this route rather than go direct to reported numbers." 

Slattery hopes these first months of experimentation will give Viceland some momentum going into the upfronts. "We have this period now, leading up to upfronts, where some of these great brands are going to be working with us to try out some different models," he said. "Then we can bring that to the table in the upfronts and hopefully entice some of those other brands who will be sitting on the sidelines until then."

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.