The company, which was once valued at $5.7 billion, has been struggling to find a buyer this year.
Vice, the brash digital-media disrupter that charmed giants like Disney and Fox into investing before a stunning crash-landing, is preparing to file for bankruptcy, according to two people with knowledge of its operations.
The filing could come in the coming weeks, according to three people familiar with the matter who weren’t authorized to discuss the potential bankruptcy on the record.
The company has been looking for a buyer, and still might find one, to avoid declaring bankruptcy. More than five companies have expressed interest in acquiring Vice, according to a person briefed on the discussions. The chances of that, however, are growing increasingly slim, said one of the people with knowledge of the potential bankruptcy.
A bankruptcy filing would be a bleak coda to the tumultuous story of Vice, a new-media interloper that sought to supplant the media establishment before persuading it to invest hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2017, after a funding round from the private-equity firm TPG, Vice was worth $5.7 billion. But today, by most accounts, it’s worth a tiny fraction of that.
In the event of a bankruptcy, Vice’s largest debtholder, Fortress Investment Group, could end up controlling the company, said one of the people. Vice would continue operating normally and run an auction to sell the company over a 45-day period, with Fortress in pole position as the most likely acquirer.
Unlike Vice’s other investors, which have included Disney and Fox, Fortress holds senior debt, which means it gets paid out first in the event of a sale. Disney, which has already written down its investments, is not getting a return, the person said.
“Vice Media Group has been engaged in a comprehensive evaluation of strategic alternatives and planning,” Vice said in a statement on Monday. “The company, its board and stakeholders continue to be focused on finding the best path for the company.”
Vice began as a punk magazine in Montreal more than two decades ago. Over the years, it blossomed into a global media company with a movie studio, an ad agency, a glossy show on HBO and bureaus in far-flung world capitals. Disney, after investing hundreds of millions in Vice, explored buying the company in 2015 for more than $3 billion, according to the two people familiar with the conversations.