The deal seems to be driven by Vice’s desire to expand readership by adding Refinery’s female-skewing audience. Vice will also acquire Refinery’s various revenue streams, which include advertising, content licensing, and events. The Journal notes that Refinery is also looking for audience expansion and that 60 percent of Vice’s audience is outside of the U.S.
Both digital-media organizations have faced financial difficulties in the past several years. Refinery laid off 10 percent of its staff this time last year, and Vice has faced several rounds of layoffs in 2019, the first because of revenue slowdowns in February, and again recently when it merged its cable network, Viceland, and its news division. The merger and most recent layoffs followed the cancellation of its HBO show, Vice News Tonight, and the financial fallout that followed (the show is moving to Viceland). Vice has long been hounded by cash-flow problems. According to a recent piece over at Intelligencer, “Several senior employees had charges to their corporate credit cards inexplicably declined; one employee who left Vice this spring is still being hounded by debt collectors because Vice has not settled the roughly $3,000 left on a corporate card assigned to their name.”
While their content portfolios might indeed complement each other, when rumors of the deal first surfaced this summer, some critics expressed concerns about a culture clash. Vice has been accused of — and has apologized for — fostering a “boys club” culture, with one digital-media exec telling the New York Post that “the cultures are oil and water. Misogyny meets feminism.” That said, Vice has implemented changes in the past several months, hiring a majority of women into senior business and content roles, many of whom have spoken out against Vice’s characterization as a boy’s club.
This post has been updated throughout.