Shane Smith, co-founder of Vice.
Vice Media, the digital media company once valued at $5.7 billion, has hired bankers to seek a sale, according to people familiar with the matter.
Several buyers have expressed preliminary interest in acquiring Vice outright, people familiar with the matter said. While finding a single buyer would be a simpler solution for Vice, given potential issues around valuation and the company’s outstanding debt, it also is exploring options to sell the company in parts, the people said.
The Information reported Friday that Vice is shopping its content studio business and named PJT Partners and LionTree as banks helping the company with that transaction.
Vice’s most desirable assets are likely to be its content studio and its creative advertising agency, Virtue, said the people. The studio business includes Pulse Films, which Vice announced in March it had acquired after previously only owning a controlling stake. Pulse has made a number of popular music documentaries, including Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and the “Beastie Boys Story.” The documentary film market is particularly hot right now for sales and consolidation, one of the people said.
Vice attempted to go public via a special purpose acquisition company last year, reaching an agreement with 7GC & Co Holdings. But plans to go public stalled after the market cooled and investors weren’t sold on Vice’s prospects as a stand-alone public company, CNBC reported last year.
Vice was an early darling of the digital media industry, peaking in 2017 with a $450 million investment from private equity firm TPG that valued the company at nearly $6 billion. Vice targeted a valuation of about $3 billion including debt when it attempted to go public last year. If Vice agrees to a deal to sell the entire company, it’s likely to garner a price significantly lower than that, two of the people said. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Vice has estimated it will hit $1 billion in revenue by the end of 2023.
Vice is considering a sale as it seeks liquidity for investors and to help pay back about $1 billion in debt. Disney already wrote off its $400 million investment in 2019 with the expectation it will be worthless.
Discussions with potential buyers are ongoing, the people said. No deal is assured or imminent, they said. TPG isn’t interested in acquiring all of Vice and instead is looking to monetize some of its investment, one of the people said.
“The market is very active in the studio space right now and we have built a scaled, global world-class studio business that’s generating inquiries — when there’s that kind of interest, we have to consider it for our investors,” said a Vice spokesperson. “Beyond that, there’s nothing to comment on.”
A TPG spokesperson declined to comment.
Vice also owns a news site and other digital media assets, including Refinery29, which it acquired in 2019 for $400 million. Digital media companies such as BuzzFeed and Vox Media have consolidated assets in recent years and could be potential buyers for those assets, one of the people said.
WATCH: Vice Media CEO Nancy Dubac speaks to the future of the company