“Everything we learned, we learned from porn.” That is how Shane Smith, chief executive officer of VICE Magazine opened the launch party/upfront for the new VICE.com at Skylight One Hanson, a converted bank (that looks like it had been a church before that) in Brooklyn on Thursday, September 15th. It was certainly a massive party (though the porn was sadly lacking…), with two floors of bands, many open bars, hors d’oeuvres, and more.
The bank opened at 7:30 PM, letting in the line of RSVPs, press, VIPs, and more who had formed outside as it started to rain. It was an impressive early turnout for an event that was scheduled to go until 4:00 AM – VICE had asked press to show up early, but the general public RSVPs (who always form the bulk of an audience) weren’t being let in on a first-come, first-served basis; rather, after the overwhelming RSVP response to the event, VICE had done a lottery to see which RSVPs were accepted (though perhaps those who were accepted showed up early, because they weren’t notified of that & their assured entry, unlike those whose RSVPs weren’t selected). There was a surprisingly long period of milling about, getting free drinks, staring at the massive balloons above and admiring of the bank-turned-event space – the most interesting thing was the beugel/swing top cap on the somewhat large & heavy Grolsch beer bottles.
Smith finally took the stage for the “upfront,” though it wasn’t like any network president announced their new fall line-up (which started premiering the following week) – though the girls in bikinis didn’t stay on the stage long. It was to announce the launch of VICE.com, the new website for VICE Magazine. But it was also to introduce VICE‘s online strategy, which, “we learned from porn.” Smith made a convincing case as to why porn is the leader/innovator in online, from its large market share of the online video viewing (60%), profitability (way more than YouTube…), innovation in geo-targeting and contextual ads, and more. VICE even recently purchased the ‘vice.com’ domain name from a porn company, after the owner of that porn portal had fallen on hard times – the domain name owners had asked VICE for a lot of money originally, so VICE had passed back then; that’s why VICE was only now launching VICE.com.
But after all of that, there was rather less explanation as to how VICE.com could repeat porn’s success without actual porn. There was much talk of news (including some impressive field reporting from the events in Libya), streaming video, exclusive content, etc. But “take masturbation out of the equation,” as Smith said, and you kind of take out the main, no only appeal of porn. For all of its innovation, the profitability of porn rests on that one thing, which is a far cry from news and music. Today is a golden day for cheap, on-site video reporting, thanks to the internet and technological advances – but it still ain’t porn.
For all the talk of news (and porn), the rest of the evening – i.e., why most people had come (the rest came just for the free drinks…) – was devoted to music, the reason you’d probably first heard of VICE. On the stage that Smith had stood were Tanlines, Death From Above 1979, and finally Rick Ross. Unfortunately, they all failed to truly ignite the crowd – Tanlines are still better as background music than actually somebody to watch, while DFA1979 lacked the out-of-control crowd they’ve been getting ever since their reunion started earlier this year (there seemed to be more photographers than fans, though Sebastien Grainger & Jessie Keeler still gave it their all), and many were either too drunk, too tired, or no longer there by 1:00 AM for Rick Ross. Downstairs, past some southeastern Europeans hocking a new type of electrical bicycle, was a basement space where the lesser-known local bands played. There was almost no lighting, bad sound, and many at the event couldn’t find the space (there were no signs pointing to the stairs in the lobby that took you downstairs, nor to the small doorway that led to the actual basement; only if you were trying to find the bathroom might you make it to the basement, though at least there was a bar there), but it was actually the more interesting arena, as bands like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Anamanaguchi, Total Slacker, and The Men all were kind of more compelling than the bigger names upstairs.
“Substitute news for porn and we change the world.” All upfronts and launches are full of optimism and hope, and VICE.com’s was no different. Most upfronts don’t praise porn, have an open bar, or garage-punk music in a basement. For all of VICE‘s success, for all of porn’s success, doing the news-for-porn switch will be a tricky one to pull off. VICE is certainly expanding & going into new fields (witness last year’s launch with Intel of the multimedia Creator’s Project – QRO recap – which had its own upfront earlier this year – QRO review – and holds down two nights downtown, October 15th & 16th – QRO NYC Show Preview), so here’s hoping, for the first time ever, porn knowledge is put to good use.