Vice, the global news publisher and TV company that was once valued at nearly $6bn (£5bn), is reportedly close to filing for bankruptcy.
The company, whose assets include Vice News, Motherboard, Refinery29 and Vice TV, has been involved in sale talks with at least five companies in an attempt to avoid filing for bankruptcy, according to the New York Times.
Vice, which hit a valuation of $5.7bn in 2017 as media giants including Rupert Murdoch, WPP and Disney clamoured for a slice of its youth appeal, has been seeking a sale at a price tag of about $1.5bn.
Last week, the company – which has been evaluating its future since plans to float using a special purpose acquisition vehicle (Spac) collapsed two years ago – announced it was cancelling its popular Vice News Tonight as part of a restructuring that could result in more than 100 staff being made redundant.
In February, Fortress Investment Group, the company’s debt holder, extended a $30m funding line to enable Vice to pay overdue bills to vendors. The same month, Nancy Dubuc, who took over as chief executive from controversial co-founder Shane Smith in 2018, announced her surprise departure.
If a sale cannot be agreed – suitors are said to be seeking a sub-$1bn deal – a bankruptcy process would result in Vice continuing to operate normally while an auction process is run.
“Vice Media Group has been engaged in a comprehensive evaluation of strategic alternatives and planning,” the company said in a statement. “The company, its board and stakeholders continue to be focused on finding the best pathway for the company.”
Vice, which began as a punk magazine in Montreal almost three decades ago, expanded into digital media and TV striking deals with companies including Sky and HBO.
The promise of successfully tapping the media habits of a global youth audience attracted hundreds of millions of dollars of investment from companies including Disney, which explored a $3bn-plus deal to buy Vice in 2015. Disney wrote off its $400m investment in Vice as worthless in 2019.
Vice was among a generation of fast-rising digital media upstarts such as BuzzFeed that once threatened to supplant legacy media companies with the recipe for attracting millennial audiences.
Last week, BuzzFeed, which has a market value of $75m after a disastrous initial public offering last year, announced the closure of the remainder of its once highly lauded BuzzFeed News operation and that it was cutting 180 staff across the rest of the business.
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