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Cheddar Succeeds With Innovation and eSports: Streaming Media East 2019
In the post-cable era, where does a youth-oriented news company go to connect with an audience? Wherever those viewers already are, says Cheddar.

Double down where you can win, Melissa Rosenthal, executive vice president of Cheddar, told the audience at Streaming Media East 2019. Providing the second day conference keynote, Rosenthal said her company made its name providing live financial and business news for young adults, an underserved area in the days of graying network and cable news. It believed it could win viewers in the daytime with that content, but didn’t see financial news succeeding in primetime. For those hours, Cheddar made a bet that esports content could succeed. It didn't stream live events, though, but creates content around esports culture, community, and competition. It started by producing several esports segments per day, then transitioned just a few months ago to an hour of primetime coverage five days a week. Seeing success with that, Cheddar will expand to two hours of daily esports coverage this summer.

"We are at the forefront of esports. We made a huge bet on it," Rosenthal said. That meant creating a dedicated studio, hiring people from the esports industry, and broadcasting daily on Twitch. "Its an area where we knew that we could enter and win."

Cheddar's rise, as Rosenthal detailed, has been driven by providing vibrant news coverage for young adults, being platform agnostic, and staying relentlessly innovative. The company now owns three channels (Cheddar, Cheddar Big News, and Cheddar U). It has experimented with a variety of distribution strategies, such as providing an audio simulcast and creating a show on QVC. The company was acquired by Altice USA for $200 million last week, a deal that will lead to new distribution opportunities.

Cheddar carries that innovation into advertising, spurning traditional 30-second ads for deeper sponsor integrations. The company creates opportunities for brands to be involved in the programming in a meaningful way that doesn't detract from the content. As long as Cheddar is clear about branding and leaves the audience with a positive impression of the sponsor, such integrations lead to positive brand lift over time, Rosenthal said.

The company knows it needs to stay innovative, as "the incumbents only stay sleeping so long," Rosenthal noted. Any of them could spin up a media company tomorrow to compete with Cheddar. The danger for Cheddar is in thinking it's so far ahead that it can ignore the threat. To keep up its momentum, the company needs to be agile.

"We move really fast. We need to be rigorous. We need to keep innovating and think about what's next," Rosenthal said. "That's the way we build a media company in 2019 and make sure that you don't end up in a fire sale to another company you don't want to be sold to."

What separates Cheddar from the rest is its ability to spin shows up quickly, creating new content in hours, not days, she said.

"We're living in a post-cable era. What does that mean? By all measures, it's a cataclysm," Rosenthal said. But by recognizing how viewing trends are shifting and creating a presence wherever viewers are, Cheddar hopes to stay a step ahead.

Photo: Melissa Rosenthal, executive vice president of Cheddar, at Streaming Media East 2019

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