A&E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc addressed the allegations of old-school sexual harassment at millennial media darling Vice, saying the company is working aggressively to address the problems exposed last December by the New York Times.
“I don’t think they’re alone,” Dubuc said today at the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach. “The ‘bro-ey culture’ is pervasive in our business … They’re not trying to hide from this issue.”
Dubuc talked about the steps Vice Media has taken to correct a boundary-pushing culture that was described as uncomfortable and degrading to women; including hiring a new head of HR, Susan Tohyama; and committing to an even 50-50 split of women and men across every level of the company by 2020.
“We’re not giving [Vice co-founder] Shane [Smith] or Vice a free pass,” said Dubuc, whose network partners with Vice on the cable channel Viceland. “But I’d also ask the media, ‘Who else is making declarations of what they’re going to do to change?’ I’ll give them props for at least taking those steps.”
Before Dubuc took the stage, the law firm Alexander Krakow + Glick filed a civil suit against Vice Media on behalf of a former employee, claiming the media company pays its male employees at its Los Angeles and Brooklyn offices substantially more money than women performing the same work.
“Our investigation has uncovered significant evidence that Vice made a conscious decision to pay more money to its male employees than its female employees who worked in similar positions performing the same or substantially similar work,” said attorney Michael Morrison in a statement. “This result is not surprising given the male dominated leadership structure at Vice and the public allegations of rampant gender discrimination and harassment as reported by the New York Times last year.”
At Code, Dubuc said A&E invested in Vice because it presented an opportunity for reinvention.
As cable bundles grow skinner, Dubuc said, it would become increasingly hard to press pay TV distributors to carry two history channels. The millennial media organization presented an opportunity to address an underserved, and desirable, demographic, she said.
The A&E executive strongly defended the ratings of Viceland, noting it reaches just 50 million households. In just 24 months, she said, its primetime ratings have risen 4% — though admittedly shy of the network it replaced, H2.
Viceland saw the second highest YoY growth among viewers ages 18-49, with 26% year over year growth (behind only MSNBC with 31% YoY growth).
“What do people want? Give us a shot here. We grew year over year,” Dubuc said, chiding a reporter who asked about the ratings to “do your homework.”
Dubuc said A&E chose to try something different in launching the new channel, rather than opting for the easy route of programming to a group of aging viewers who switched between its two History channels.