Melissa Rosenthal on how Cheddar is revolutionising business news

By Ashley Norris

Cheddar Inc. launched two years ago as a news and business channel aimed at at young-ish audience that would be carried via social media, smart TV and mobile. Two years on and global expansion is high on Cheddar's agenda.

Here the company's Executive Vice-President, Melissa Rosenthal (who will be speaking at Digital Innovators' Summit 2018), outlines Cheddar’s vision, details its impressive growth and explains its unique approach to native advertising.

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Even though you have been broadcasting for a couple of years in the US now, Cheddar is not yet that known in other markets. Can you give a quick explanation of what it is and how it came about?

Cheddar is actually only two years old, but I guess we can be considered a vet because the space is still so nascent. Cheddar is a live and on-demand video news network focused on covering innovative products, technologies and services transforming our lives. Cheddar was created because of two specific trends we noticed in the media industry. The first being there was no network filling the void of business news for young people. The median age of CNBC and Fox Business is 67. The hypothesis, when the company was started, was that there was a hunger for this sort of content and we were right. 

You bill Cheddar as the ‘leading post cable network’ - what exactly does that mean?

That's the second trend we looked at when we started the company. We call ourselves a "post-cable network" because our distribution is where the future of cable is headed, social and OTT. Young people are cutting the cord at a faster rate than ever before. In fact, as of the end of 2017, 22 million US adults have cancelled cable, satellite, and telco tv services. By 2021, a total of 81M U.S. adults will have cut the cord. 

How has your audience developed so far? Has it mainly been via online, smartphones or smart TVs? Is there an area that you think will most fuel viewer growth in the future?

Social has been our primary driver of growth. We have two types of viewers, the social viewers who scroll by and watch on Facebook and Twitter, and people who are watching us via OTT. Additionally, we've carved out a niche for ourselves in social video. We focus on gadgets and cool concept technology, which is another top of the funnel marketing tool for us. Many people are sharing Cheddar content on LinkedIn and Facebook. The goal is to build a strong brand and become the network of choice for those watching via Sling, Amazon, Pluto, Philo, etc. 

And what is the demographic - do you sense that your viewers are millenials who are investors? Or are they just fascinated by tech, news and current affairs?

We are living in the future. Every day you hear news of Uber rolling out an autonomous fleet of vehicles and cryptocurrency being the new gold rush. It's not just investors who are interested in business news, these companies are playing a major lives in the roles of their users and consumers. Our sweet spot is 24-34 year olds who are interested in technology and want to stay abreast of what's happening in society with the companies that they interact with every day. Additionally, in Q1 of this year we are launching our second network, "Cheddar Big News," which will be modelled after CNN's Headline News in that it will focus on big news stories in the day, but done in the style and sentiment of local news. 

You were an important part of the team that developed Buzzfeed's native advertising offering in 2010. Do you think there are parallels between the two companies in that you are in a similar place with Cheddar now as you were with Buzzfeed in 2010?

Definitely. The learnings from developing and growing BuzzFeed's native advertising product were integral in shaping our advertising product at Cheddar. Additionally, much of our senior leadership comes from BuzzFeed, so there are a lot of similarities in the way we've structured the company.  

Your subscription package is central to your monetisation strategy. How do you encourage sign ups?

Our monetisation strategy is actually much less focused on subscriptions and more on carriage fees and innovative ad products for advertisers.

Explain how Cheddar's native advertising/sponsorship system works? Which tie ups have you been most proud of?

We work collaboratively with our partners to integrate branded segments into our programming. The big difference between the live products our competitors offer and ours is that we are working with our brand partners to create the segments and shows they are buying. One example of a great partnership is what we're doing with Quicken Loans for Rocket Mortgage. We do a 30 minute weekly show co-programed with Quicken around Real Estate for millennials. We cover trends in the market, have great guests, and give tips and advice for young homebuyers. All of our partnerships are incredibly unique. We currently work with AmEx, TradeStation, Dunkin' Donuts, Fidelity, and Ally Bank to name a few! 

Cheddar recently inked a deal with Molotov to expand into France. Is international expansion a key part of your plan for the coming years? Would you, for example, imagine launching an analogue of Cheddar in London, Frankfurt etc?

Yes, global expansion will definitely be a part of our growth. Starting with distribution and then eventually expanding into a live presence in new markets. London is launching in 2018 and will likely expand in other markets later this year. 

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The Cheddar team rang the New York Stock Exchange bell on occasion of its second birthday earlier in January this year. Photo: NYSE