Vice’s Shane Smith Hints at HLN Acquisition: ‘We Believe We Could Do a Better Job’

By Mark Joyella 

minihero_shane-smithIs Vice founder and CEO Shane Smith pondering an acquisition of HLN? He sure hinted as much in a conversation with Jeff Jarvis at the Paley Media Council Tuesday. “There’s a lot of distressed media assets out there, some of them in TV, that we can go after” Smith said. “HLN is a distressed media asset. It’s a great opportunity because they’re doing a very bad job and we believe we could do a better job.”

HLN, which was born as CNN Headline News, has had a tumultuous year. In February, newly installed HLN boss Albie Hecht canceled the long-running “Showbiz Tonight”, and announced a rebranding of the network, which would become “the first TV network for the social media generation.” The network, the thinking went, would attract millennials with a new look, new hosts, and a focus on “what’s trending, going viral, and being shared”.

And yet, by summer, Time Warner appeared ready to hit the HLN reboot button yet again–turning to Vice as a potential partner. Time Warner was reported to be considering a major investment in Vice Media, with Smith’s company taking over the programming of HLN. The proposed deal was estimated to be in excess of $2 billion. But by August, it was dead. “Negotiations with Vice have ended,” Hecht wrote in a note to employees.

That same month, The Wall Street Journal reported Time Warner held talks with Glenn Beck’s The Blaze over another potential joint venture to “replace” HLN.

Perhaps not surprisingly, talk of turning HLN into a hip, buzzy destination for millennials faded fast, with most discussion in the fall centered around layoffs and cancelations.

Vice, meanwhile, spent September cashing checks. The company secured new investments–from Silicon Valley firm Technology Crossover Ventures and cable broadcaster A+E Networks–worth $500 million. That put a valuation on Vice in excess of $2.5 billion, with Smith saying his goal was to use the new funding to create thousands of hours of video content. “High-quality content and innovative tech platforms will drive Vice through this next period of growth on our relentless quest for total media domination,” he said.

Here’s Smith on Tuesday talking about HLN as a potential takeover target: