Nancy Dubuc made a big bet on Vice, and now she’s going to try fixing it, as CEO

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She has stepped down as CEO of A&E and is likely to become the new boss at Vice Media. Makes sense.

A&E CEO Nancy Dubuc has left and is probably going to end up as CEO of Vice Media. The first part is official; the second part hasn’t been announced yet.

But it will be surprising if it isn’t — Dubuc has been talking to Vice about the job for several weeks, according to people familiar with the discussions. And it makes sense for many reasons:

  • Vice Media’s run as the raucous, break-all-the-rules-but-still-succeed media upstart has come to an end, and it needs help: The company missed its 2017 numbers by a wide margin, and its much-buzzed-about HR problems have now become well-documented HR problems.
  • Dubuc’s position as CEO of A&E would be difficult to sustain, since she had already been engaged in extensive — and eventually public — conversations with Amazon about running its studio business.
  • Dubuc is already well acquainted with Vice: She pushed for the deal that turned one of A&E’s low-rated cable channels into Viceland, Vice’s low-rated cable channel. That deal also put her on the Vice board.
  • Dubuc spent a lot of professional capital on that deal. And Viceland has not been a success. (Dubuc will argue otherwise (see below), but she’s in a very small minority.) Now she’s basically doubling down on that bet. The upside is that she can be the woman who shaped up Vice. The downside …

The longer Shane Smith stuck around Vice as CEO, the more surprising it was that Smith was Vice’s CEO. And he seemed comfortable with the idea that he wouldn’t be CEO as the company evolved: Two years ago at the Code Media conference, Smith was musing out loud about the fact that he had become Vice’s “brand artist.”

The big question marks for Vice, Dubuc and Smith: How much of the company’s success is dependent on Smith’s presence, leadership and uncanny sales skills? How much of that will he contribute to the company when he’s no longer CEO, no matter what role he morphs into? It will be fascinating to watch.

Speaking of watching: Dubuc appeared onstage at our Code Media conference last month and answered several questions about Vice. At the 25-ish minute mark, you can see her commentary about Vice’s “bro-y” culture; at 33:25, she has an extended defense of Viceland’s performance. Short version: “We’re 24 months old — what do people want? Give us a shot here.”

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