Some media entities may be struggling to keep their financial heads above water, but not Vice Media. The one-time alternative culture magazine that became a new-media colossus just keeps on getting bigger.
The company is said to be working on a new round of funding that would give it a theoretical market value of more than $5 billion, or about $1 billion more than it was worth the last time it raised money in 2015, according to multiple news reports based on anonymous sources.
Sky News says one of the funders that is considering a $500 million investment in Vice is TPG Capital, an investment fund based in the U.S. with $70 billion under management that owns stakes in Airbnb and J. Crew, among other things.
Others that are said to be interested include CVC Capital Partners, a private-equity fund that was spun off from financial giant Citicorp in the 1990s.
Vice's previous funding round came from Disney, which invested $200 million in December 2015, doubling its previous investment of the same amount, which was announced at the same time that Vice said it would take over a TV channel run by A&E Networks (a joint venture between Disney and Hearst).
Those investments gave Disney about 20% of the company's shares. Other investors include Silicon Valley fund Technology Crossover Ventures, which invested $250 million in 2014 for a 10% stake, and 21st Century Fox, which in 2013 bought what was then a 5% stake in Vice for $70 million (it now owns about 3%).
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According to Sky News, the investment round is designed to fund Vice's global expansion, and a move into "scripted" or TV-style programming to go with its news and entertainment coverage.
The financing push is seen by some as a prelude to an eventual initial public offering that could take place later this year.
In February, Bloomberg reported that Vice had hired Morgan Stanley and the Raine Group to help it raise money for a fund that would be used to develop and produce "scripted programming for TV, mobile devices and movie theaters."
Vice has said it wants to expand into offering more traditional types of programming in more than 80 countries this year, and has signed a number of deals with media companies and telecom providers in the Middle East and Asia for distribution.
Whether Vice will eventually do an IPO has been the subject of much debate, fuelled in part by comments from Vice CEO Shane Smith on the topic. In December, he said that the company had met with a number of big banks about the possibility of an IPO, and the company started filing audited monthly financial statements, often a precursor to going public.
Vice watchers say there is also the chance that Smith could decide to sell the company rather than go public, however. Disney would make a logical candidate, since it already owns a significant chunk of the shares, and is also looking for growth candidates that can compensate for the inevitable decline of more mainstream assets like ESPN.
In a speech at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year, Smith said he faced a dilemma when thinking about whether to sell or IPO. "Do I do something that’s good with me, stay independent, or do I do something that’s good for the shareholders?"
Developing scripted-style TV shows, even short ones, can be an expensive proposition, which helps explain the need for funding. And the more Vice moves into TV content, the more it will run into other players such as Amazon, YouTube and Facebook, all of whom have their eyes set on being the future of TV.
Vice is seen by many as a hedge for the traditional media companies that have invested in it, as they try to bridge the gap between the decline of their existing cable and other assets and the rise of the mobile, millennial, cord-cutting consumer.
Whether it would make a good IPO remains to be seen, however. Smith has said in the past that Vice has a $1 billion annual revenue run rate, but little is known about the current state of its actual finances.
Media companies can be problematic investments because most are based at least in part on an advertising-driven model. Much like the media business itself, the advertising industry is also going through unprecedented upheaval as a result of the Internet, with Google and Facebook controlling an estimated 75% of all digital advertising.
Despite those challenges, BuzzFeed is also said to be considering an IPO either this year or in 2018. It has raised a total of $400 million in two rounds from Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, the last of which gave the company a theoretical market value of about $1.7 billion.