News comes a day after Dubuc made official her plans to leave a longtime role at A+E Networks.
The former A+E Networks chief will be stepping in as CEO, filling a role long assumed by co-founder and face-of Shane Smith. The announcement comes as the new media company — which includes a linear cable channel partnership with Dubuc’s A+E networks, which granted her a seat on Vice’s board — has found itself embroiled in #MeToo era turmoil amid allegations of sexual harassment and pay inequity that has seen top executives exit. Recognizing the value of having a female at the helm and already having a short-hand with Dubuc, Smith is said to have recruited her to the top position. He will remain involved as executive chairman.
Said Smith, “Why Nancy Dubuc? Simply put, because rarely in business do you get to work in a perfect partnership. First off, she is better than me at everything. Second, it allows me to move to Executive Chairman, where I can concentrate on the only things that I am good at – content and deals. Thirdly, as we go forward VICE needs a best-in-class management team to harness all of this growth and control our own destiny, whether it be staying independent, strategically partnering with someone or going public. Lastly, I get to work with one of my best friends and media heroes. We are a modern day Bonnie and Clyde and we are going to take all your money.”
Those who believed Dubuc would remain at the cable giant where she had not only made her name but also spent the bulk of her career have not been paying attention. In recent months, her hat had been in the ring at Amazon, where she was in contention for the top studio job, which ultimately went to Jennifer Salke. Per insiders, the public nature of her wandering eye didn’t sit well with the A+E board, with whom she had been negotiating a new contract. In the end, Dubuc opted to resign and take a potentially more lucrative gig at Vice, assuming that the equity she was given translates to big money. Though given the challenges at the Brooklyn-based company, that’s hardly a sure thing. (According to two sources, the A+E board was caught off guard by the Vice news.)
“Shane and the team at Vice have done what all of us aspire to do – build a brand and make content that people really care about,” Dubuc added in a statement. “Vice speaks to a generation that defines today’s cultural conversation, and the opportunity to partner with all of the incredibly creative people across the entire company was one of those rare moments in a career. As the next chapter of media is written by founders such as Shane and Suroosh, it’s an honor to join a brand with such tremendous opportunity and I look forward to growing the platform for decades to come.”
The timing of Dubuc’s new position comes not only as her current contract approaches its conclusion but also as the linear cable business faces increased challenges in the peak TV era. Dubuc has ridden that tide for several years now, having served as CEO at A+E since 2013. Her gut for programming, outspoken style and confidence have made her one of the most effective and easily one of the most candid and visible executives in the industry, which makes her a good fit for Vice.
Indeed, during her tenure, Dubuc moved swiftly to successfully rebranded multiple networks in the A+E portfolio, notably History, which has also become a scripted destination with dramatic fare including Vikings and military entry Six. And as ownership became increasingly critical in the longtail content universe, she also launched A+E Studios, the company’s longform production unit, which now produces Six and 2016’s Roots remake, Lifetime’s Unreal and History drama Knightfall. Her time at the cable giant also was defined by the ways in which she expanded the brand’s footprint, especially with digital and new media partnerships.
It was in late 2015 that Dubuc oversaw the joint venture agreement with Vice Media that launched Viceland in 2016 and led to a 20 percent stake in the one-time content darling. Despite heavy hype, the network has struggled to draw broad linear ratings for its slate of younger-skewing programming. In her new role, Dubuc will have her work cut out for her, both at the network and the larger company, which counts Disney and Fox among its investors. Indeed, Vice Media has come under fire of late for cultivating a “boy’s club” environment that has allegedly led to a toxic workplace culture for female employees. In late 2017, The New York Times published an in-depth look at the environment at the Brooklyn-based company, which included several allegations of sexual harassment. More recently, Vice became the subject of a class action lawsuit alleging systemic pay disparity.
What’s more, Dubuc is joining at a rocky time for digital media companies, too. Both Vice and BuzzFeed were said to have missed revenue projections last year amid heated competition for digital ad dollars from tech giants Facebook and Google. At one time, Smith spoke openly to the media about plans to take Vice public, but such talk has cooled in recent months. With revenue growth slowing, the $5.7 billion company would likely need to cut costs and focus on becoming profitable to become an attractive acquisition target.
Until Dubuc’s replacement at A+E Networks is found, her predecessor, Abbe Raven, will return to the role in which she, too, enjoyed significant if much lower-profile success. She’s already back at the A+E office and is expected to present at the company’s upfront. Raven has made clear she isn’t interested in remaining at A+E long term, so expect top level executives at the company to throw their names in the hat.