Viceland Launches VR Partnership With Samsung and Downplays Weak Early TV Ratings Data

Company says metrics are 'inaccurate'

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As it nears its one-month anniversary, Viceland is expanding its stable of advertising partners by striking a new virtual reality deal with Samsung. But the network is also downplaying early ratings data that indicates soft initial audience interest in the cable network that replaced H2.

Viceland and Samsung unveiled a major partnership today to create new virtual reality content for both companies' platforms. The companies are enlisting big names in film, music and gaming to create VR projects for Samsung Milk VR, Samsung's virtual reality content service which is exclusive to the SamsungGear VR headset. The first one will focus on VR pioneer Chris Milk (founder and CEO of Vrse) and highlight his work in the VR space.

The partnership launches with this two-minute spot, which will air tonight on Viceland.

As part of the partnership, Viceland and Samsung will co-produce a documentary series about the VR creators as they work on these projects. They will premiere as native ads on Viceland prime-time programming, while 30-second versions of each documentary will run during Viceland commercial breaks. "We want to pioneer storytelling 'beyond the frame' and to connect with audiences in completely new, and emotional, ways," said Eddy Moretti, Vice's chief creative officer and Viceland's co-president, in a statement about the new efforts.

The new partnership is part of Viceland's efforts to shake up TV advertising by reducing ad load and running more native ads. Viceland hopes to have native ads—which are created by Vice Media to look more like editorial content—represent half its ad inventory within the year.

"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 Guy Slattery, general manager for Viceland, told Adweek earlier this month.

Early ratings woes?

The announcement comes three days after an International Business Times report said ratings had plummeted since Viceland replaced H2 on Feb. 29. According to the story, which cited data from Rentrak, Viceland's average daily viewership over its first three weeks (55,000) is 77 percent lower than H2's numbers during its final three weeks (241,000).

A Viceland spokesperson said that Rentrak data was "inaccurate," noting that it doesn't focus on the 18-34 demo that Viceland is targeting, which is much younger than the 25-54 demo that had tuned in for H2. On the digital side, Viceland has 113 million views of its content so far; however, cumulative digital "views" are much different than linear ratings, which represent the average viewers per minute for a program. Of Viceland's digital audience, 72 percent falls in the 18-34 demo and 73 percent is male.

"Rentrak doesn't paint the full picture here. We've seen tremendous consumption across all screens for our programming, with growth continuing to climb," said the spokesperson.

It will be at least five more months before Viceland's Nielsen data will be made publicly available, due to an agreement the network struck with Nielsen to keep those ratings private for six months. Nielsen said this is a common agreement for many new networks, who wish to keep ratings data private for the first several months as they get their bearings. Slattery said earlier this month that Nielsen's numbers only reflect Viceland's linear ratings, but the network's content also appears on the website, app and VOD.

"It's an important metric, but it only captures one piece of the multiplatform approach that we have," said Slattery. "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."

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