Rogers and Vice to end partnership, with Vice hinting at new Canadian plans

Rogers and Vice have terminated their joint venture that saw the latter make content to be broadcast on the former's properties.

Viceland will cease broadcasting at the end of March

Vice co-founder and CEO Shane Smith, left, gestures as Rogers Communications then-CEO Guy Laurence watches while announcing the two companies' partnership in 2014. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Rogers and Vice have terminated their joint venture that saw Vice make exclusive content to be broadcast on Rogers networks.

In a release on Monday, Vice Canada said it had acquired full ownership of its own studio business, which had previously been shared with Rogers Media under a two-year $100-million deal that launched in 2016.

One such channel, Viceland, will cease broadcasting on March 31, 2018. But Vice insists the end of the deal does not mean the end of its Canadian operations. "Vice Canada will be announcing new partnerships in the Canadian market soon," Vice said in a release, adding that the company's news website is unaffected.

Vice produced 130 hours of Canadian programming under the deal, and the company says much more is coming.

"Vice will continue to grow in Canada in 2018," Vice Canada president Ryan Archibald said in a release. "We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us and will be announcing some new exciting partnerships soon."

For its part, Rogers says it plans to evolve its content-delivery strategy. "We plan to redirect our Canadian content funding to other Canadian content initiatives that better align with our portfolio and brands," Rogers said in a separate release.

Job cuts are coming

Vice Canada recently unionized and while both companies touted the programming that the partnership provided, the Canadian Media Guild was warning about job cuts to come.

"I am sorry to confirm that with today's announcement of the end of the deal between Vice Canada and Rogers Communications, workers and members at Vice Canada will be facing job cuts," Kamalo Rao, the national president of CMG, told members in a letter. "This business decision means that dedicated and talented people will lose work."

CMG also represents CBC employees.

Carleton University journalism professor Christopher Waddell said the news became more likely after Rogers changed its CEO last year, turfing the architect of the deal, Guy Laurence, in favour of former Telus executive Joe Natale.

"Natale has a more focused view of what Rogers should be in terms of wireless and other things," Waddell said, "and doesn't seem to be as interested in venturing out in these other areas."

From a broadcaster's perspective, the Viceland model is just one of many where initial plans didn't pan out into growing the business. A major problem for the channel is that its target demographic is young people under the age of 35, who generally eschew paying for cable television packages, Waddell says.

Viceland was a money loser

According to data from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Viceland had 1,509,000 subscribers in 2016, a decrease of 7.5 per cent from the previous year, when the Biography Channel occupied the same dial position.

Viceland booked $5.4 million in revenue that same year, but spent $7.9 million in expenses, CRTC data shows.

"The audience for Viceland for the TV channel was not very large and Rogers was losing money on it," Waddell said. "Pitching millennial content on cable and satellite is probably not a successful business strategy."

Carmi Levy, a London, Ont.-based media analyst, said Rogers was likely the party that decided to pull the plug.

"When you engage in a partnership of this type, I think both sides, and especially a telecom of the scale of Rogers, would expect some kind of return," he said. "Here you are just over three years into the deal and obviously the returns aren't where they'd like them to be."

With files from the CBC's Meegan Read and The Canadian Press