Disney Writes Off Its Vice Stake in Latest Sign of Trouble
The Walt Disney Co. Mickey Mouse logo is seen on a fence at the company’s studios in Burbank, California, U.S. (Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)

Disney Writes Off Its Vice Stake in Latest Sign of Trouble

(Bloomberg) -- Walt Disney Co. wrote off the rest of its investment in Vice Media, reflecting the ongoing troubles at the onetime media darling.

The charge of $353 million marked the second time in the past year that Disney has taken a hit on the investment.

Vice, which produces a high-profile news show for HBO and operates the Viceland cable channel, has struggled with sluggish ratings and a difficult market for online video -- one of its early growth businesses.

The company, which began as a hipster music and lifestyle magazine, drew investments from some of the biggest names in the media industry under the direction of co-founder Shane Smith, who stepped down from daily operations last year. At one point the business was valued at $5.7 billion.

Vice has been run for a year by Nancy Dubuc, the onetime chief executive officer of A&E Networks, the cable TV business that Disney jointly owns with Hearst Corp. In a further sign of the struggles at the company, Vice let go a number of staffers earlier this year.

‘What Is Vice?’

She spoke about the job cuts and her restructuring efforts in an interview with Bloomberg TV that aired earlier this week.

“You’re really trying to clarify what is Vice,’’ Dubuc said, noting that the company has five lines of business. Regarding the layoffs, she said: “Some of that really was a reflection of how fast the company had grown and then being able to take a look at where we can be the most strategic going forward.’’

Dubuc said a recent $250 million financing deal with 23 Capital and others would aid her efforts to turn around the business.

Disney owned a blended 21% stake in Vice, directly and through A&E. 21st Century Fox, which Disney acquired in March, held another 6%. Disney took a $157 million writedown its Vice investment last year.

Dubuc declined to say this week when Vice could be profitable. “It’s my No. 1 priority,” she said. “We’re feeling really good about the plan we’ve laid out and hitting that plan.”

A representative for Vice said on Wednesday that the company “is firing on all cylinders and on target to meet, if not exceed, its financial targets for the third straight quarter.”

Vice will continue to invest in “the long-term growth of our five global businesses -- television, studio, digital, news and our advertising agency, Virtue,” the company said. “As the media industry consolidates and fewer players control the information and entertainment that the world consumes, Vice will always be there with a megaphone for the more than half of the people on this planet under the age of 30 who crave independent world-class content.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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