Before it filed bankruptcy only yesterday, Vice Media lived beyond its means for when it started raising serious money via investors from the Murdochs to Disney. After a while, it became a money pit.
For instance, after raising a significant sum in 2017 (when it got its famous peak valuation), Vice invested heavily in “content, operations and infrastructure that did not provide an immediate return and resulted in significant losses and increased expenses,” the restructuring executive said in today’s declaration. In 2019, Vice borrowed money to fund ongoing operations, a move which left it “saddled with a significant amount of leverage,” he added. That’s not what you call future-thinking financial management.
By the end of last year Vice’s debt ended up totalling nearly four times the $225 million price put on its assets by the lenders who are buying the business. Yesterday, Monday’s filings show that Vice has total outstanding debt of $834 million. Its founder Shane Smith’s 2013 statement to Forbes that “I’m worth more money than I can ever spend” feels a little dated and cringe now…
It then comes as no surprise that Vice has now crashed amid a cost of living crisis and inflation. But higher interest rates haven’t choked off the supply of cash for other media properties. On the very day of the Vice bankruptcy filing, another digital media startup, this one called The Messenger, began publishing. According to Axios, this firm raised $50 million a few months ago. Meanwhile, on Friday, Austin Russell, the CEO and founder of Lidar tech firm Luminar told The Wall Street Journal he was buying control of Forbes in a deal reportedly valuing the magazine at $800 million. Based on Forbes’ recent revenue history disclosed when it was considering going public, that’s a much higher valuation than what media companies are getting in the market today. Maybe Russell knows the secret to getting a return. If so, he might want to share because not too many people in the media have figured it out.