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October 3, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:24am

Vice Media Group acquires rival millennial publisher Refinery 29

By Charlotte Tobitt

Vice Media Group has bought women’s lifestyle website Refinery 29 in a deal that reportedly values both companies combined at $4bn (£3.3bn).

Refinery 29 will keep its distinct brand but add a “complementary, influential new audience” to Vice’s portfolio, the company said.

The deal  is “one more step” in Vice’s path to profitability, it added, and means the group will grow its global audience reach by 17 per cent to 350m monthly unique visitors.

Vice Media Group chief executive Nancy Dubuc (pictured), who joined the company last year, said the acquisition “signals a new era of lasting change in digital media”. She will take charge of the Refinery 29 business.

“We are doubling down on the power of brand, voice and experience – things our audience puts trust in – as we strengthen our position for a competitive future,” Dubuc said.

“We will not allow a rapidly consolidating media ecosystem to constrict young people’s choices or their ability to freely express themselves about the things they care about most.”

Vice said the takeover strengthened its position as the “world’s largest independent youth media company”.

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It will now be able to grow its investment in premium content production across all its platforms by 20 per cent, it added.

The Financial Times reported that Vice Media had agreed to buy Refinery 29 in a mostly stock transaction that jointly values the publishers at $4bn. The FT story was shared by Vice Communications on Twitter.

The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.

Joint Refinery 29 chief executives Philippe von Borries and Justin Steffano said the “transformational partnership” will mean they can “expand our vital role in shaping culture and positively impacting the world for young people everywhere”.

Refinery 29 was launched in 2005 and is aimed at millennial women. Its UK staff are based at a We Work shared working space in London’s Old Street. It also has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Berlin.

Dubuc was brought on board at Vice after its founder and former chief executive Shane Smith apologised for allowing a “boys’ club” atmosphere to flourish at the publisher. 

Vice Media Group already owns Vice News and the Vice Digital division, plus the TV channel Viceland, production studio Vice Studios, and creative agency Virtue.

Vice’s digital arm in the UK, Vice UK Ltd, saw revenues fall by £10m in 2017. However Vice’s UK businesses as a whole saw turnover rise to £103m, it claimed.

Vice said today that its revenue performance for the first half of this year was the best in its history due to the success of Virtue and Vice Studios. Half of the company’s revenue comes from outside the US, it said.

In February this year the company announced plans to cut ten per cent of its staff globally, resulting in about 250 job losses.

Since then, following four months of negotiations, Vice UK won union recognition and set up a chapel with the National Union of Journalists.

Press Gazette understands about 250 staff are based at Vice’s UK office, including 16 in editorial. About 45 staff members have unionised, incluidng editorial, post-production, and production staff.

Vice has also recognised a union for its US staff.

The Vice UK union said today it “stands in solidarity” with staff at Refinery 29 in the UK.

“We hope that Vice will look to its workers to find out how best to manage the two companies in a sustainable way, and communicate any future changes with the union to foster good industrial relations,” it said.

“No matter what happens in the coming months, our union is here to protect and support its members and hold the company to account.”

The acquisition comes one week after Vox Media and New York Media announced they were merging.

Buzzfeed chief executive Jonah Peretti spoke last year about digital media mergers, saying he was open to the idea because it could enable the companies to negotiate better deals with Facebook and Google.

At the time, he pointed to the “interesting work” being done by Vice, Vox Media, Refinery 29 and Group Nine.

Picture: Reuters/Danny Moloshok

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