Technology Moved The Cheese, Jon Steinberg Has Cheddar Up His Sleeve

RETHINKING NEWS

Technology Moved the Cheese, Jon Steinberg Has Cheddar Up His Sleeve

As consumers increasingly rely on smartphones and spend more time watching video snippets on Facebook than it does on TV’s evening news, what lies ahead for the news industry? Former Buzzfeed President and COO Jon Steinberg is doubling down on live-streaming, campuses and e-sports through its post-cable network Cheddar.

The truth is, unless a major event happens, viewers are unlikely to spend their valued time watching and listening to every news or talking head that appears on TV.

And as consumers’ TV-watching habit becomes increasingly digital, news consumption has evolved too; Twitter is probably the first port of call for updates while consumers are likely to spend more time watching video snippets on Facebook than it does on TV’s evening news.

So, where does the news landscape go from here? What kind of content will resonate with growing young audiences who are consuming news in a very different and new way?


YOUNGER TALKING HEADS

Former Buzzfeed president and COO Jon Steinberg, in a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur, says live-stream news format, often comprising of talking heads or editorialised interviews, are still relevant.

I think people still like talking heads. It is a question of finding ‘heads’ of different ages

What news media outlets need to do, however, is to think about the industry differently by tweaking its content and distribution methods to suite a specific target audience.

“I think people still like talking heads. It is a question of finding ‘heads’ of different ages,” says Steinberg, noting that the news industry is having to contend with two major cohorts - a more mature TV audience and an increasing cord-cutting generation, driven by the Gen Xers and Millennials.

“It (news) can’t be all old people for old people, right? You must have some younger ‘heads’ on there as well,” says Steinberg.
Sensing a void in the news segment - particularly catering to millennials who are turning away from traditional news - Steinberg started Cheddar, a news streaming service targeting the tech-savvy, cord-cutting audience.

“It is hard to cater to different audiences,” says Steinberg “So, we chose to focus in this underserved audience.”

FINANCIAL NEWS FOR MILLENNIALS

Launched in January 2016, Cheddar focuses on financial news, broadcasting live daily from the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

“I started it because I love business news. I love CNBC growing up and I felt no one was doing a network just focusing on technology, media, entrepreneurship and innovation,” says Steinberg, who had a stint as CEO of Daily Mail North America prior to starting Cheddar.

I felt no one was doing a network just focusing on technology, media, entrepreneurship and innovation

Staffed by about 150 employees - a third working in news production - Cheddar is picky on what it puts out on its platform, choosing to feature companies that resonate with the younger audience.

“We focus on Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Alibaba - a whole generation of companies that are part of the culture. We don’t do oil or power companies. We don’t put fund managers on.”

Cheddar also features a line-up of young anchors, including Steinberg himself, who hosts the financial show occasionally from the NYSE. As for talking heads, Cheddar aims for celebrity executives or pop culture figures to be featured on their programmes.

“We choose to focus on Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Elon Musk - those are the rock stars of this content area.” For instance, Cheddar had featured former NBA star Shaquille O'Neal to talk about bringing awareness and support towards small businesses.


AGGRESSIVE VIDEO DISTRIBUTION

Cheddar runs completely on consumer based equipment, cutting down the capital investment and production costs significantly compared to a traditional news set-up.

As opposed to traditional TV system, we are very aggressive in distributing the clips across all social media platforms

Backed with Buzzfeed experience - the media company widely seen to have perfected the production of viral videos - Steinberg implements a similar strategy in how it approaches content creation and video distribution with Cheddar.

“The delivery is all over the internet. As opposed to traditional TV system, we are very aggressive in distributing the clips across all social media platforms,” says Steinberg. He was President and Chief Operating Officer of BuzzFeed from 2010 to 2014.

Besides broadcasting financial news, Cheddar launched its general news network called Cheddar Big News last April. Both financial and general programming, live and on-demand, are distributed on YouTube TV.

It is available on US-based streaming service Sling TV, Amazon, Comcast X1, Twitter, Facebook and  “60 percent of smart TVs in the US," claims Cheddar.

Both Comcast and Amazon are among its enviable list of investors, which also includes AT&T, Raine Ventures, Goldman Sachs, Liberty Global, AT&T, Antenna Group, Ribbit Capital, Dentsu Ventures, among others.

FUTURE OF NEWS IN POST-CABLE ERA

Steinberg is forging ahead into the post-cable era, reeling in younger viewers by going into the campuses.

There’s a niche-fication that is going on in media where you want to cater more deeply to smaller audiences. That’s the fragmentation that the internet has caused but I think there is a place for general news catering to young people

In May, the digital publisher launched CheddarU, its third live news network, available in over 600 college campuses across the US.

“There’s a niche-fication that is going on in media where you want to cater more deeply to smaller audiences. That’s the fragmentation that the internet has caused but I think there is a place for general news catering to young people,” says Steinberg.

CheddarU, according to its announcement, broadcasts “non-partisan headline news, technology coverage, and start-up stories’ in its programming, available on 1600 TV screens - dorm rooms and public places - and reaching some nine million students.

The next big thing in news is esports coverage, says Steinberg. The network had recently launched its weekly sports news programme Cheddar Sports. It made its debut on Microsoft’s live streaming platform Mixer on Thursday.

“I think esports coverage can subsume an enormous portion of traditional sports news coverage. The next generation will spend a lot of time watching esports, not just football and basketball,” says Steinberg.

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