An internal document at Vice Media Group lays out a plan for substantial layoffs at the new-media company’s websites, as Vice considers a variety of options to deal with coronavirus pandemic.
The planning document, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, calls for layoffs of over 300 people in digital operations, including major cuts at both Vice News and Refinery29, the women-focused digital publisher Vice acquired last year.
A Vice Media Group spokeswoman said the planning document represented one of several scenarios being developed inside the company for potential consideration and hadn’t been endorsed by management.
“This information also does not reflect [Vice Media Group] standard global reporting metrics and while all media companies are taking steps to plan for precautionary measures during Covid-19, no decisions at VMG have been made,” the spokeswoman said.
The savings from the cuts laid out in the document would be about $40 million, and they could result in a 30% decline in digital traffic as less content is published, the document said.
Vice is expecting online ad sales to suffer during the crisis, with expected shortfalls of 33% at Refinery29 and 39% at Vice’s entertainment and news sites, according to the document.
Virtually every company that sells ads, from TV networks and news sites to tech giants
Google, is getting hit as companies slash ad spending dramatically during the pandemic. Vice’s peers across the new-media landscape, including Vox Media Inc., BuzzFeed Inc. and Group Nine Media Inc., have taken steps including furloughs, pay cuts and layoffs.
Last month, Vice told employees its top executives were taking voluntary compensation reductions of 25%, with Chief Executive Nancy Dubuc taking a 50% reduction.
Vice, the largest of the new-media companies, already was under stress before the novel coronavirus struck. It lost about $50 million last year and came in about 8% short of its $650 million revenue target, the Journal reported. It also is on the hook for big payments to investor TPG, stemming from a fundraising deal struck in 2017.
The health crisis is making it more urgent for Ms. Dubuc to transform and streamline the company. The document suggests Vice is looking to rein in international costs. One analysis in the internal document calculated that many European markets like Germany, Spain and the Netherlands had relatively large staffs for the amount of web traffic they brought in. The document said the company could potentially close its office in Canada, Vice’s birthplace, but the spokeswoman denied that is being considered.
After years of trying to sell ads across a host of sectors, Vice Media is trying to focus its sales efforts on a few big categories. The document noted the company’s 2019 performance “may indicate an ‘exhaustion of industry penetration’” by Vice.
Its largest digital-advertising category last year in North America was alcohol, followed by apparel and telecommunications, while Refinery29’s biggest category by far was fashion and retail. Geico, Adidas, State Farm and
were among the biggest Vice advertisers.
Vice is also sorting its programming into broad categories, at times describing its ambitions in terms borrowed from big-budget television and movies, such as “series,” “franchise” and “tentpole,” according to the document. Another major effort is “transcreation,” repurposing content by translating it into another language and adjusting it to fit new cultures.
The document also notes that some of Vice digital’s international editorial staff would be transferred to “VWN,” or Vice World News. That refers to an international initiative funded by a recent deal between Vice and Antenna Group, a Greek media company that is one of Vice’s oldest international partners.
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