In December Disney put another $200 million into VICE at a $4 billion valuation, bringing their ownership to 10%.
Vice Media has come into the month of March looking more like a lamb than the proverbial lion.
The irreverent content brand saw its Web traffic suddenly plunge 17.4% compared with the previous month, according to multiplatform figures just released by Comscore for February, registering 49.1 million unique visitors. That’s down from 59.5 million in January. No brand in Comscore’s entertainment category dropped further than Vice during that period.
Reached for comment, a Vice spokesman issued the following statement to Variety: “Comscore doesn’t capture the entire universe of viewers consuming Vice content across all screens and platforms. Since introducing new viewership products earlier this year, overall audience size has continued to grow, with watch time at an all time high.”
The irony of what’s propelling this precipitous decline is a controversial practice that Vice, as well as other digital publishers, engage in online that’s actually aimed at inflating traffic numbers.
The inventory that Vice makes available to media buyers is actually a combination of its own website, Vice.com, and a collection of other Web properties Vice doesn’t really own or operate, such as ModernFarmer.com and ThePlaidZebra.com. Comscore enables this arrangement by allowing one publisher to essentially sign away its audience to another publisher through a document known as a “traffic assignment” letter. These pacts are typically struck by smaller publishers lacking advertising sales infrastructure; in exchange for turning over their traffic, they can have their inventory represented by a bigger entity with better access to a wider range of marketers.
But while traffic assignment letters are perfectly legal, they’ve been long criticized within the industry. While reach-hungry publishers like Vice aren’t hiding these partners from advertisers, these ad buys are considered the digital equivalent of mortgage-backed securities: mixed in with the premium inventory is lesser-quality placements....MORE