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DUBAI, March 29 (Reuters) - Vice Media is bringing its edgy style of journalism to the Middle East to tap what it believes is an underserved market of young, digital hungry consumers.
Vice announced its arrival with a party on Wednesday at the glitzy Armani Hotel in the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, the global trade hub where the New York-based company will set up its regional headquarters.
Vice reckons the region's youthful population coupled with some of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world in countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates make it an ideal market to expand into.
"That's just a tremendous opportunity and we think that this is the time that we come in and steal a lot of market share," Vice Co-Founder and Chief Executive Shane Smith told Reuters in an interview in Dubai on Wednesday.
Vice, which is aiming for 50 staff in Dubai by the end of the year, will launch a website and digital channel this summer and is in active discussions about a 24-hour regional cable channel to be broadcast from the emirate.
It will produce news and lifestyle content in multiple languages including Arabic, English, Farsi, Turkish and Urdu.
Vice has documented migrant worker abuses in Dubai, won acclaim for a documentary while embedded with Islamic State and garnered widespread attention when it took former National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman to North Korea.
"We're always going to be looking at social justice, we're always going to be looking at environmental justice, we're always going to be looking at being on the right side of history, especially with millennials and our audience," Smith said.
Vice is likely to run into the same obstacles it has faced elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, "where journalists are most subjected to constraints of every kind", according to global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
Worth $4.2 billion at its last valuation, Vice has transformed in 23 years from a punk magazine in Montreal, Canada, into a global multimedia brand.
Its regional partner is Afghan media company Moby Group, whose Dubai offices are a few kilometres (miles) from the Trump International Golf Club which featured in a 2016 VICE episode on U.S. cable channel HBO about migrant worker exploitation.
Vice and Moby share a common shareholder in 21st Century Fox and the Afghan company holds a license from the U.S. Treasury's OFAC allowing it to expand into Iran - a market Vice wants to tap. (Editing by David Clarke)