Nancy Dubuc, the media executive behind the revival of A+E Networks, has been CEO of Vice for a little more than a year now. Her tenure so far has been nothing if not eventful. In the past five months alone, the company has trimmed its previously 2,500-person global workforce by 10%, canceled its struggling cable channel’s signature Vice Live show after less than two months, shut down certain web brands while consolidating the rest into a single destination at vice.com, and raised $250 million in debt to help fund its turnaround plans. The change has been rapid and notable enough that even the departures last week of the editor and managing editor of vice.com warranted a New York Times story. Last month, Vice also got a front-page feature in the Times’s business section highlighting its new tentpole strategy of producing film and television for other content players, even as one of Vice’s most prominent investors, Disney, has taken $510 million in write-downs since November on its stake in the company’s staggering $5.7 billion valuation. It’s a story of activity, and, of course, a story of turmoil.
Dubuc’s latest head-turning move came on Monday, when Vice revealed that former New York Post publisher and longtime Rupert Murdoch lieutenant Jesse Angelo would be joining the executive suite as president of global news and entertainment. That announcement coincided with two others: HBO’s cancellation of Vice News Tonight after its current season winds down this September, and the departure of Josh Tyrangiel, Vice’s executive vice president of news, who had run the nightly show for the past four years.
According to several people familiar with the timeline, HBO informed Dubuc in May that Vice News Tonight wouldn’t be renewed, and Dubuc broke the news to Tyrangiel last week. Tyrangiel in turn decided to leave the company. “It’s been nearly four years of insane challenges and huge rewards,” he wrote in an email to contacts. “I’m looking forward to recharging.” Dubuc has been acquainted with Angelo for years and was reintroduced to him in March by former Viacom executive Ross Martin, now CEO of the consulting firm Blackbird. Late last week, between the end of the HBO partnership and Tyrangiel’s exit, Dubuc needed to move fast on having a plan for Vice News in place in time for Monday morning, when employees were to be informed about the changes. She worked through the weekend to put Angelo’s deal together and get it locked down.
For the past seven years, much of Vice News’s identity was tethered around the deal with HBO, but both institutions have been in transition, if not full-scale chaos. Sources familiar with HBO’s decision to part ways characterized the choice in several ways. For one thing, Vice’s champion at HBO had been Richard Plepler, who recently left HBO after 27 years over a diminution of his autonomy under new parent company WarnerMedia. Bob Greenblatt, who now oversees HBO as the chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment, and Casey Bloys, HBO’s programming chief, are far more focused on scripted dramas, an area where HBO is ramping up its output. As far as news content goes, they can always fall back on the more limited and far less production-heavy Axios on HBO series, which reliably makes headlines with its newsmaker interviews. Matthew Ball, a media analyst who focuses on the streaming space, tweeted, “HBO was never going to renew VICE’s weekly or nightly shows in a post-AT&T world.… WarnerMedia is emphasizing synergies, talent sharing, organizational simplicity, combined go-to-market branding. If HBO needs news, it’ll be or produce from CNN.”
It’s not as though the Vice–HBO relationship was bad, but it also wasn’t the best. HBO executives were blindsided in 2016 when Vice launched its own cable channel—as a joint venture with A+E and Dubuc—and the company’s #MeToo crisis from late 2017 into 2018 under then-CEO Shane Smith didn’t exactly help matters. As one person familiar with HBO’s decision put it, “HBO wants to be in business with people they feel like they trust, and they don’t know if they have that level of trust with Vice anymore.”
Until recently, Angelo had spent his entire career working for News Corp, Rupert Murdoch’s global newspaper empire, and he’d spent most of his career working as a journalist, and eventually the top business executive, at the Post, where Angelo spearheaded a major digital overhaul and the creation of a TV show based on the tabloid’s Page Six franchise. As I’ve reported, he left the paper abruptly in January after learning of Murdoch’s plan to bring back former Post editor in chief Col Allan as an editorial adviser. Part of Allan’s remit, as I’ve also reported, has been to help refine the Post’s Trump coverage heading into the 2020 election season, and Angelo wasn’t comfortable with what Allan’s return seemed to signal not only for his digital strategy, but the direction the Post was headed in terms of political coverage. (Allan is a red-blooded conservative and a Trump supporter.)
Some former Vice employees told me they found a lifelong New York tabloid guy like Angelo to be a curious choice. Indeed, though his name has significant cachet in establishment media circles, some of Vice’s young, 20-something journalists had never heard of him, and are no doubt a bit startled by the thought of having a boss coming from the same fire-breathing newspaper that has been torching progressive politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on its front page. “There’s a lot of that,” said someone close to the newsroom. But in other ways, Angelo—himself no fire-breathing right-winger—makes sense. The Murdochs, after all, were early and enthusiastic Vice investors via 21st Century Fox. James Murdoch, one of Angelo’s best friends since childhood, is an independent member of Vice’s board of directors. Dubuc is known for breathing life into a flagging TV operation by picking mass-market hits like Pawn Stars and Ice Road Truckers. Angelo is known for breathing life into an anachronistic newspaper by building out a web operation that delivered must-click mass-market web content for nypost.com, and a celebrity gossip show for local Fox stations around the country. (Page Six TV wasn’t renewed for a third season.) There’s a certain synergy. It’s also worth noting that Angelo will be reunited with a couple of people who worked under him when he edited the Daily, News Corp’s short-lived iPad newspaper. One of them is Katie Drummond, Vice’s new SVP of digital. The other is Josh Hersh, s