Vice launches Zealandia platform for local stories

When you land in New Zealand, an informational video plays on several screens, explaining that around 70 percent of the plant and animal life living in New Zealand are unique to the island nation. This is what happens when a tiny strip of land is removed from the rest of the world and allowed to evolve independently. And along with the steady evolution of the fauna and flora, the people living here have also taken on traits you don’t see anywhere else.

It’s this uniqueness that Vice is looking to showcase in a new series, dubbed Zealandia, scheduled to launch online on Monday.

The series will follow compelling characters in unconventional settings in an attempt to uncover the less mainstream aspects of the New Zealand experience.

The first episode wanders into New Zealand’s underground Vogue scene, as the documentary crew takes a glimpse at what goes into FAFSWAG Vogue Ball.

Inspired by the 1980 Harlem Vogue Scene, South Auckland’s FAFSWAG crew has adopted the performative dance and avant-garde aesthetic that gave the originators of the movement such a powerful creative outlet.

But, in typical Vice fashion, the documentary isn’t only about dance. It also takes a look at the impact of discrimination Māori and Pasifika LGBTQ youth face on a daily basis in New Zealand.

Vice New Zealand head of marketing and business development David Benge says the aim of launching the new series is to tell local stories that aren’t necessarily given the attention they deserve.

“As the office here in New Zealand gets bigger, we’re investing time and resources into telling stories that matter to New Zealanders through the Vice lens,” he says.

“There’s no one else in New Zealand that tells those stories in the way we do.”

The new series is essentially the local equivalent of Vice’s Rule Britannia series that currently delivers original stories about the UK through YouTube.

“Why not apply what we do so well globally to New Zealand?” Benge says.

Like Rule Britannia, Zealandia will be available free to all YouTube users rather than sitting behind Sky’s paywall on Viceland. Digital, of course, remains a priority for the media company.

The Vice business head believes the stories told on the Zealandia platform will appeal beyond the locals and also find an international audience among Vice fans.

“We can tell these stories, and then potentially have them picked up by the American, British or one of our Asian offices,” he says.

“These are universally interesting stories. The set of circumstances that have created life for 18 to 34-year-olds doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. What we have here is unique, and it resonates globally.”

Benge adds that the only way to be able to do justice to those stories is by investing in local editorial talent, familiar with life on the ground in New Zealand.

Someone who fits this description is journalist Tess McClure, who recently joined Vice as deputy editor from The Wireless.

“She’s up for Investigative Journalist of the Year at the Canons as well as two other awards,” says Benge. “This speaks to the quality and style of storytellers that we’re adding to our team as we grow.”

At this stage, Vice has no set number of shows planned for the Zealandia platform but the team is already planning a few follow-on episodes and is about to start shooting a second episode.

Benge also says they’re looking at a few possible angles in the lead up to the election. 

“As time rolls by, more stories will reveal themselves,” he says. “There’s no set limit to it. It will just keep developing, and as we keep expanding, we’ll have more people contributing ideas.”

Benge also believes that telling these local stories will present commercial opportunities for local brands to better associate with the media company.

“That Vice-style of storytelling has predominantly been international, but as we launch the local version of that, we think it’s something brands will want to be involved with.”

The primary source of revenue around Zealandia will be online adverts on the local website and pre-rolls on YouTube, but Benge has also left the door open to brands sponsoring individual episodes.

“Say for instance we do an episode on young ice climbers, then we could talk to Icebreaker about sponsoring an episode. We’re always open to having that kind of conversation.”

Vice has already shown its prowess in developing branded stories by producing a collection of three short documentary-style branded stories for the launch of Steinlager’s Tokyo Dry product.

The over-arching campaign, which included creative by DDB and media placement by Zenith, featured at last night’s Beacon Awards, winning three silver awards.

It’s this type of work that Vice will be hoping to do more of as it continues to increase its presence in the local market.

“What we’re producing is premium content within a premium environment, and the point here is that we don’t just want some lame ad that’s available everywhere. If the budget allows, let’s try to do something interesting that will actually speak to our audience,” Benge says.

That said, there are growing concerns about brand safety at the moment. And given Vice’s tendency to venture into controversial territory, there is always the possibility that local brands might not want to take the risk in associating their labels with the media company. But Benge advises against this kind of conservative thinking. 

“If a brand has identified young people as a demographic that they want to get in front of, then cutting out all the things young people are interested in doesn’t make sense,” he says.

The point here is that being interesting is never safe. It always requires the willingness to take a risk and move out of the comfort zone. And Vice will hope that a few more brands are willing to take that plunge in the coming months.

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