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Vice looks to win over Arab millennials with Mideast launch

Shane Smith, the co-founder and CEO of Vice Media, visited the twofour54 media zone in Abu Dhabi in April. (AP)
LONDON: The US-based company Vice Media has launched in the Middle East aiming to win over a new audience of young Arabs with its often controversial content.
Vice Arabia — together with its regional partner Moby Group — launched on Nov. 13 in Dubai, with the screening of an film documenting the lives of young people living across the Middle East and North Africa.
The documentary — entitled Bil Arabi — is the first piece of content to be published by the platform. It features the region’s youth talking about topics as diverse as religion, politics, drugs, love and money.
“Capturing their fears, emotions, hopes and dreams, it’s testament to the important work we’ll aim to do at Vice Arabia in representing the many voices of young people across the region,” said Islam Al-Rayyes, editor-in-chief, Vice MENA. Vice Arabia will create original content in Arabic, some of which will be translated for its English media platforms.
The regional launch of the brand has been welcomed by many young Arabs.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Vice. Having a Vice Arabia is even better because I know for sure that the team will tell our stories as Arabs, and the way Vice do things is always on point and with a twist,” said a blogger and host of a Saudi hip-hop radio show, known as Big Hass.
Vice Arabia will also house a regional hub of its creative agency Virtue Worldwide, which will work with regional brands creating sponsored content.
Media commentators will watch with interest to see if Vice can maintain its reputation for hard-hitting content, while operating in a region where journalists can face censorship issues.
Vice has previously reported on issues such as the treatment of migrant workers in Dubai.
“I’m sure it will ruffle some feathers, but probably not as much as you might expect,” said Austyn Allison, editor of Campaign Middle East, based in Dubai.
“If it stays away from the most touchy political subjects, it can still seem edgy. And the post-Arab Spring youth are doubtless ready for that. The region is young, and growing more progressive by the day,” he added.
“As long as it manages to talk to as many of the youth as possible, while keeping grounded about the limits of the society where it will publish, it should find a welcome niche as a means of controlled rebellion and self-expression among a demographic ready and willing to redefine their sense of identity.”