Lectures

VICE Founder Shane Smith: Online TV Could be Revolutionary, But It’s Just as Crappy as Regular TV

"Let's make content that young people actually give a shit about."
shane smith iwny VICE Founder Shane Smith: Online TV Could be Revolutionary, But Its Just as Crappy as Regular TV

An earnest Mr. Smith at Internet Week.

VICE cofounder Shane Smith took the main stage at Internet Week today and demonstrated that although he was about to deliver a political rant, he is still edgy. “I came up with this script when I was drunk on a plane coming back from Pakistan, and I had taken a pill,” he said. “So it’s not going to be as smooth as we like, but it’s going to be fantastic.”

Mr. Smith actually riveted the audience with a roughly 15-minute survey of the depravity of the television content showcased at the upfronts, juxtaposed with riots and crises among young people in cities around the world. Networks all aspire to appeal to young people, he said, but serve up the same old derivative, fluffy entertainment. To add insult to injury, the content producers promote this content with circus stunts like multi-colored cabs (as per Fox’s slogan, “more colorful”).

By contrast, the audience these networks covet is actually violently angry, Mr. Smith said, pointing to the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and riots in London and Greece.

“Basically young people all over the world are pissed off. They’re fucking angry. And I don’t know about you but there is nothing that’s scarier than young people who have no future. If you take away someone’s future, they have nothing to lose. Historically, if we look at what young men do, especially, when they have no future, is they go out there and they fuck shit up.”

VICE, for its part, is producing a 60 Minutes-type show “for young people” in partnership with HBO. The news show was among 63 different shows it announced a few weeks ago at its own upfronts, where ad man Martin Sorrell of WPP, one of VICE’s new backers, made a triumphant appearance.

Mr. Smith criticized his own company for pandering, as well as the other online networks that hosted their own upfronts. AOL gave away cars to media buyers; Google brought in Jay-Z.

He ran down the list of old guard and new guard shows. “I can do the whole upfronts and new fronts, three weeks, in one fuckin’ slide,” he said. “We got The Awesomes, Don’t Quit Your Dream Job, you got Fetching, which I thought was Felching when I first looked at it. I was like, that’s the only good show on there! It’s all just derivative fucking crap.”

“The online networks are just being derivative of what TV does,” he said.

Some more select quotes:

“I’m not really going to show what VICE has been up to, I’m going to go on a
political rant.”

“We’ve been spending the past week at the upfronts and I don’t know how many of you guys go to the upfronts but they’re freaky. Does anyone know SCTV? …Whenever I was at one of these upfronts, I was like, this is like an SCTV sketch.”

“Everyone who works for me is 25 and has facial tattoos.”

“Everyone is trying to say, ‘this is Gen Y, we’re not an old company. We’re not doing old content.’”

“We said, ‘wait a second. We’re at these upfronts. We’re coming up with all these show and formats for young people. What do young people actually give a shit about?’”

“As I was flying back from Pakistan, and we saw some serious shit there… where’s the media that covers this? We’re just not doing it.”

“The news is gonna be, Two and a Half Men is moving from Tuesday to Thursday fuckin’ night.”

“A lot of you know the history of VICE. But if we’re the ones saying shit’s fucked up, then you know we’re in trouble. We were all about sex, drugs and rock
and roll… if fuckin’ VICE is saying we should be doing something a lot more serious, then we know the world is fucked.”

“Hold on, there is no cocaine and supermodels unless you sort these problems out.”

“TV is shit. Everyone has their four favorite shows but it’s shit. The Internet is derivative of that shit. TV is derivative of itself. What’s the No. 1 show? The Voice. What’s The Voice? It’s American Idol 2.0. American Idol was shit and now The Voice is shittier. TV never takes any chances, they never do anything different.”

“What’s worse is, online is derivative of TV. So online just tries to take whatever
shows are popular on TV and then do them shitteir and with less money and with no stars.”

“We have historical change happening. The largest cohort in the world is… smashing things, and we’re just going along and saying, ‘Let’s do Two and a Half Men with Ashton instead of Charlie.’”

“Online is a revolution. The Internet is a revolution. And we should be revolutionary in the content that we put on it, rather than derivative. And rather than mimic the shit of TV and make it worse, let’s say ‘fuck it.’ The Internet isn’t TV, it’s different, it’s better. Let’s make content that young people actually give a shit about.”

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com