When Viceland launched in February, the network struck an agreement with Nielsen to keep its ratings private for six months. Shortly before that window is set to lapse, the first look at those Nielsen ratings are out, revealing that while the audience is a lot younger than that of the channel it replaced, H2, it's also a lot smaller.
Viceland's average 18-49 prime-time audience in July was just 45,000, less than half of the 92,000 that H2 averaged in the demo last July, according to Nielsen ratings obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
The deal that Viceland, a partnership between Vice and A+E Networks, struck with Nielsen is a common arrangement for many new networks as they try to get their bearings in the first months after launching. Nielsen will still not be publicly releasing Viceland's ratings for at least another week as part of that deal.
While Viceland's audience is much smaller than H2's, it's also younger. The median viewer age dropped 17 years between July 2015 and July 2016, from 57 to 40. And Nielsen data found that the average 18-49 prime-time audience for the network's July premieres was up significantly, from 59,000 for H2 to 102,000 for Viceland.
Despite the premiere spin, those 18-49 ratings seem disappointing, especially given the buzz around Viceland. However, A+E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc said she is taking a long-term view. "You have to look at what is the promise of H2 10 years from now, versus what is the promise of Viceland 10 years from now," Dubuc told the Journal.
Viceland looked to shake up TV advertising by running more native ads that look like editorial and reducing ad load. The network's programming has just eight minutes of national ad time per hour and two minutes of local time.
Shortly after the network launched, execs were already trying to downplay linear ratings expectations. Guy Slattery, general manager for Viceland, told Adweek in March that Viceland content is available on the website, app and VOD in addition to the linear networks, but Nielsen's numbers only reflect its linear ratings.
"It's an important metric, but it only captures one piece of the multiplatform approach that we have," Slattery 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."
In March, the company criticized early data from Rentrak which indicated that Viceland's average daily viewership over its first three weeks (55,000) was 77 percent lower than H2's numbers during its final three weeks (241,000).
At the time, a Viceland spokesperson called the Rentrak data "inaccurate," noting that it didn't focus on the 18-34 demo that Viceland is targeting, which was much younger than the 25-54 demo that had tuned in for H2.
Even with those soft Nielsen numbers, the network—and the company behind it—remains an attractive proposition for Disney, which is Vice's largest outside investor, with $400 million invested in the company. (A+E Networks is a joint venture between Disney and Hearst.)
The Journal story suggests that Disney is considering purchasing Vice Media outright, which is something that even Vice CEO Shane Smith seems amenable to. "If you look at the brands like Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars that have [sold] to Disney, they have all gotten bigger. They have all been more successful," he said.
There has been no formal Disney offer yet, but Disney chief strategy officer Kevin Mayer told the Journal, "We are believers at Disney in strong media brands, umbrella brands under which content with a certain voice can really resonate with consumers. Vice fits that description to a T."
This isn't the first time that Disney has been involved with a millennial-themed network outside its portfolio of channels. In 2013, the company was part of the joint venture that created Fusion. Disney sold its stake in Fusion to Univision in April.