Dear Creative Leader: How to Disrupt Yourself like VICE

VICE launched a nightly news show by breaking their own rules (and ours).

Image source: Adobe Stock / Gorodenkoff.

At Adobe, I’m not just a leader, I’m a customer. The job of the Adobe Studio is to craft compelling stories about Adobe products using those very same Adobe products. This is a massive honor, and an even greater responsibility.

I spoke with dozens of enterprise customers at this year’s Adobe MAX conference. They know that I’m a representative of the products we offer and, as a fellow creative, how they should be using them. Conveniently, my challenges are the same challenges that they face each day: creating quality at scale, increasing efficiency with velocity.

Coming out of Adobe MAX, I feel compelled to share an enlightening story I picked up on how a global media company disrupted itself (and Adobe Creative Cloud) to do more by doing less. And as an archetype of digital disruption, it should come as no surprise that it comes from the rabble-rousers at VICE.

How VICE launched a live daily news show (in 60 days)

When VICE launched “VICE News Tonight” on HBO, they were already a decade into cutting hundreds of videos per month for their internal brands and marketing clients. But producing a nightly news show presented a new challenge: warp-speed video production leading all the way up to air time — every single day.

Enter Ben Baker, a VP of post production who was critical to the launch of the Viceland TV channel and looking for his next challenge when VICE confirmed its launch of its new series. He raised his hand to wrestle this scale and speed of video production into a dependable model in July 2016. The show was set to air in October.

An (even bigger) international team

The process began with globalization of execution. “For this show, we’d be using existing office in New York, London, and L.A. but we’d be spinning up international news bureaus in Washington D.C., Hong Kong, Lebanon, and Johannesburg so that we had every major part of the world covered,” Ben said.

A repeatable (not boring) recipe

“VNT had to be different… VNT would be reacting instantly to the day’s events. It needed to be colored and up to the minute,” Ben said. This ushered in a modular, segmented system that fused pre-recorded footage with day-of content in a speeding pace and style. It took the form of news reports from actual VICE office desks to template-based animations that could be updated and aired with minimal creative lift.

Ben described three visual storytelling elements that VICE invented:

  1. Artifacts: Windows for displaying documents, headlines, social posts, and statements.
  2. Emphasis: Graphics that stress key points on screen during the broadcast.
  3. Explanation: Templates for charts, diagrams, and maps that are easily adapted to new stories.

Not taking our advice

As the program neared launch, Ben realized that they couldn’t pull it off unless they removed much more time from the production process. So he did something that, at first, we told him wasn’t proper protocol. He mandated that all video editing, color correction, and sound mastering take place in one software — Adobe Premiere Pro.

“We worked out really tight coordination between each of these teams,” Ben said. “They’re all working together on the same edit at the same time.”

Prior to this decision, one editor would export an edit from Premiere, a second editor would complete color in a different program, and a third editor would finish the process off with sound. No more. Now all three editors work in one file at one time.

“As soon as the editor was taking a break, waiting for review, the sound and color teams would jump at it, even if just for 15 minutes. We joked that when the editor would go to the bathroom, the color and sound teams were like the pit team at the Indy 500. They could rotate the tires and get it back on the road by the time the editor was back in the seat. We reduced our color and mix time by 80 percent.”

How to disrupt yourself

The imperative to scale content production while optimizing efficiency is weighing on all enterprises. With the rapid innovation of our tools, there are no rules for how to go about this. But the best place to start is age-old advice: Question the answers.

VICE disrupted people, process, and Adobe Premiere to launch a successful nightly news show that delivers content minutes before airing. And all it took was one guy asking, “Maybe there’s a better way?”