Blockchain and Microtipping Won’t Save Journalism, but Cheddar’s Brave Partnership Still Makes Sense
01.30.2019

It’s been a dark few weeks for digital media. Major layoffs at both BuzzFeed and HuffPost meant around 1,000 people, some of whom received death threats from trolls on message board 4chan, lost their jobs. Josh Topolsky, founder of The Outline, which laid off the last of its staff writers in September, criticized the state of tech journalism and threatened to crowd it with yet another publication (disclosure: I write for a new tech publication). Meanwhile, profitable media models are getting harder and harder to come by as Google and Facebook eat up digital advertising dollars, and the “pivot to subscriptions” doesn’t appear to be much more effective than the “pivot to video.”

Don’t worry, we’re not about to write that a mass “pivot to blockchain” is the industry’s possible savior. We’re just reporting that finance news outlet/streaming service Cheddar is apparently doing it.

Cheddar has partnered with the Brave browser to deliver free premium content to Brave users for three months, suggesting that after a trial period consumers of its news would be required to pony up for it in some fashion. The company first put up a paywall in 2016, charging users $6.99 a month for premium content; it’s unclear whether this is the same stuff that will be available via Brave. (Cheddar has yet to respond to BREAKER’s request for comment.) Brave, a privacy-focused web browser that blocks advertisements and doesn’t share user data, offers a micropayment revenue model to publisher partners. If someone likes the content they’re reading/watching on Brave, that person can tip the publication or content creator with Basic Attention Tokens (BAT) on the Ethereum blockchain.

This doesn’t constitute a full “pivot to blockchain” for Cheddar. But it does point to a more thoughtful use of the technology than previous blockchain journalism efforts, even if microtipping has historically never been a money-maker for media organizations.

This suggests a crowd that might be more willing to tip when (and if) watching Cheddar on Brave’s browser.

Cheddar readers tend to care about cryptocurrency and blockchain. In a press release announcing the Cheddar/Brave partnership, Cheddar founder and CEO Jon Steinberg stated, “Cheddar viewers are obsessed with crypto; we even have a show dedicated to it—’The Crypto Craze.’ The idea of unlocking our premium feeds for Brave users via crypto funding, with no sign-up, seemed like a natural way to engage a passionate community that will no doubt enjoy our content.” In contrast, the target audience of (thus far) failed blockchain journalism startup Civil was not, and was never thought to be, particularly crypto-savvy.

Then there’s the “no signup” aspect. People who already use Brave automatically have access to Cheddar’s premium content. For Cheddar fans who don’t use Brave, downloading the browser is very easy; I just did it this morning. If those users are as “obsessed” with cryptocurrency as Steinberg suggests, then connecting their wallets to tip using BAT constitutes just another quick, simple step in the Brave setup process.

Brave reports about 5.5 million active monthly users, and it’s available on Mac, Windows, and Linux, as well as iOS and Android on mobile. Cheddar viewer numbers are harder to pin down, but the company has reportedly raised $54 million across four funding rounds, the last of which took place last March around when other media companies (including BuzzFeed, Mashable, Refinery29, and Vox Media) were making layoffs.

What made Cheddar thrive when other digital media companies flailed? Business Insider noted the financial news outlet’s audience engagement, low production costs, and CEO Steinberg’s aggressive deal-making. Cheddar may not have as many viewers as CNBC, but its viewers may be more likely to comment on, like, and share its content. This suggests a crowd that might be more willing to tip when (and if) watching Cheddar on Brave’s browser.

Though Cheddar seems to be doing well, Steinberg doesn’t have a blemish-free track record in media. As head of U.S. operations at the Daily Mail, Steinberg purchased Elite Daily, on which the Daily Mail ultimately suffered a $31 million loss.

Cheddar also isn’t the only digital media company with a presence on Brave. The Guardian, Vice, the Washington Post, Slate, and Coindesk are all verified Brave publishers—as are a number of porn sites, a fake name generator, and Coinmarketcap—but they don’t offer premium content for the browser’s users. And if they ever did, most of their readers (except maybe Coindesk’s) aren’t “obsessed” with crypto enough to make it remotely profitable. Then again, crypto micropayments probably aren’t going to plump up Cheddar’s revenue, either. The move just has a better chance at tapping into its niche, engaged audience’s interests.