Nancy Dubuc grew History Channel into a cable powerhouse, and has overseen A+E Networks’ stable of channels during the most tumultuous time in TV history. Now, she’s perhaps been given the biggest challenge of her career: Wrangling the wild culture of Vice, a company currently weathering several storms.
In particular, Vice has come under fire for creating a hostile work environment for women, which was the subject of a recent New York Times investigation. The company also recently missed its $805 million revenue target by $100 million.
As one of the most powerful women in the entertainment business, the arrival of Dubuc sends a clear message that Vice is looking to rebrand itself as an inclusive workplace. (The company has already formed a female-led advisory committee, and has promised a 50/50 male-female workforce split by 2020.)
Dubuc faces a bigger challenge in figuring out what to do next with Viceland, the channel that is an A+E-Vice partnership, which she oversaw in her old job. With anemic ratings, Viceland was the cause for much of Vice’s revenue woes. Questions remain over whether a linear cable channel makes sense for a digital company targeting millennials — but Vice has steadfastly argued that having a channel gives a more visible platform to its video content.
“Having the largest library of millennial IP is important for us,” Smith told IndieWire last year. Vice also produces news programming for HBO.
Dubuc, who was in contention for the top Amazon Studios job (which eventually went to NBC’s Jennifer Salke), has clearly been eager to move to a digital company after nearly 20 years at A+E Networks — having first started at History in 1999. She headed up A+E Networks as CEO — the third in the company’s history — since 2013, overseeing a portfolio that included A&E, Lifetime, History, Lifetime Movies, FYI, Viceland, A+E Studios, A&E Indie Films, A+E Networks International and more.
The exec is perhaps best known for rebranding History as a home for unscripted hits like “Pawn Stars,” “Swamp People” and “Ice Road Truckers.” History’s huge growth between 2009 and 2013 (when viewership mushroomed by 100 percent) turned it into a top-rated channel. From there, it tackled scripted fare, coming up with hits like “Hatfields & McCoys,” which made History the first cable channel to beat the broadcasters as the No. 1 network for an entire week. It later won five Emmys. After that, Mark Burnett’s “The Bible” was another smash.
As part of the changes at Vice, co-founder Shane Smith now moves to the new position of executive chairman — but he plans to still be an active, and very vocal, part of the new Vice settup.
In announcing Dubuc’s arrival, Smith dubbed it “the perfect partnership.” “First off, she is better than me at everything,” he said in a statement. “Second, it allows me to move to Executive Chairman, where I can concentrate on the only things that I am good at – content and deals. Thirdly, as we go forward Vice needs a best-in-class management team to harness all of this growth and control our own destiny, whether it be staying independent, strategically partnering with someone or going public. Lastly, I get to work with one of my best friends and media heroes.”
Dubuc at least knows what she’s getting herself into, having already overseen the launch of Viceland, which included being a member of the Vice Media board.
“Vice speaks to a generation that defines today’s cultural conversation, and the opportunity to partner with all of the incredibly creative people across the entire company was one of those rare moments in a career,” Dubuc said. “It’s an honor to join a brand with such tremendous opportunity and I look forward to growing the platform for decades to come.”
Dubuc is also no stranger to iconoclasts or controversy, having dealt with plenty over the years at A+E Networks — including “Duck Dynasty,” which was a tremendous hit for A&E but ultimately a lightning rod for controversy.
Smith, of course, has made controversy both his and Vice’s brand, and he couldn’t resist hinting at more mischief with Dubuc on board: “We are a modern day Bonnie and Clyde and we are going to take all your money.”