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Vice Media and ESPN Form a Bromance, Will Swap Sports Shows

Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 1Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 1
Vice Co-Founder Shane Smith speaks onstage during "“Missing Ink: The New Journalism” at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on October 8, 2014 in San Francisco.Photograph by Michael Kovac — Getty Images for Vanity Fair

The ties between Vice Media and Walt Disney are growing stronger, it seems. The digital-media upstart announced a deal on Tuesday with ESPN, a Disney subsidiary, in which the two companies have agreed to share sports programming.

According to a news release, Vice will create a series of original shows that will run exclusively on ESPN—both via the TV network and its digital properties—and ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series will air on Viceland, the new channel that Vice Media launched earlier this year as part of A+E Networks.

Disney became the largest outside investor in Vice Media last year, when it put $400 million into the company in return for about 10% of the stock. That was in addition to the chunk of Vice that Disney already owned through A+E Networks, a joint venture between Disney and Hearst that invested in 2014.

In total, Disney now owns close to 20% of Vice. Based on that last round of funding, Vice Media has a theoretical market value of about $4 billion.

Over the past several years, Vice has benefited from the perception that it has a lock on a large and growing millennial audience. Large media businesses such as Disney and A+E have invested in Vice in the hope that its edgy and opinionated programming might provide a hedge against the decline of traditional TV audiences.

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The new Viceland channel includes a variety of shows that are classic Vice, including Thomas Morton’s Balls Deep, a travel show called Gaycation starring actress Ellen Page, and a food show called F***, That’s Delicious.

Whether the alternative viewpoint that Vice likes to champion will blend well with a more traditional network like ESPN remains to be seen, however. The news release suggested that ESPN will be airing primarily edited versions of Vice’s show Vice World of Sports, although it will have access to the entire show.

Vice Media founder Shane Smith said in a statement that he grew up watching ESPN and was a fan of the network’s 30 for 30 documentary series in particular. “The amount of manly tears shed over various 30 for 30’s throughout the years has been nothing short of embarrassing,” Smith said. Teaming up with ESPN “is perhaps one of the favorite moments in my professional life. I can now die a happy man,” he added.

ESPN president John Skipper, meanwhile, said that Smith and his team “do an extraordinary job presenting stories through their own, very unique lens,” and that working with the company would “help to bring a new perspective to our storytelling.” The Disney executive also congratulated the Vice Media co-founder for “understanding that television is the smartest path to worldwide leadership.”