How Cheddar is creating a non-patronising environment for younger audiences

Cheddar was created by Jon Steinberg, the former President and COO of BuzzFeed, in 2016. Positioned primarily as a live-streaming financial news network, Cheddar broadcasts daily from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), NASDAQ, the Flatiron Building in New York City, and the White House lawn and briefing room in Washington DC. Set-up as a vehicle to reach younger demographics, EVP Melissa Rosenthal explains that the current media model is broken, and that Cheddar was born out of a desire to fix it.   



“We created this company two years ago, because of two major trends and shifts that we saw in the industry,” says Rosenthal. “One being that the content was changing, the content necessary to reach a younger demographic of people was changing. And also distribution. People were not watching, and are not watching content the same places they did ten years ago. We saw that happening at a much faster rate than we anticipated. And we were really capturing both the distribution and the content side of: ‘What does this look like? What does cable look like in the next ten years?’ The model is broken, how do we reinvent it?’”

With the obsession around reaching millennial audiences that has grown up in recent years, the industry has arguably taken a few wrong turns along the way. Millennial-focussed content can often feel patronising to younger people, and seen to be too heavily weighted towards more superficial forms of content such as memes, GIFs and shortform articles. When asked about the industry’s overall approach to younger demographics in recent years, Rosenthal agrees that a shift in mentality had to be made.  

“Yeah, it’s kind of crazy! You always find older people trying to categorise millennials in that way, in that capacity, and it’s just not true. Millennials are financially savvy, they’re interested in their future, they’re interested in the companies transforming their future, and they’re very smart. And the fact that people have categorised – or miscategorised millennials – for the past few years as being lazy, and entitled, that’s a generalisation that just isn’t true anymore. We’re programming for the audience that is young, but they’re affluent, they’re making money, they’re climbing the ladders and they’re the future leaders of these companies.”

That said, there’s no denying that the Cheddar brand predominantly targets younger people, so how does the company create meaningful content and avoid the pitfalls of the ‘millennial mirage’ that we have seen elsewhere in the industry?  

“We’re finance endemic first and foremost, so we are a financial news-brand for a younger demographic. The interesting thing about that is we are the only place that these finance companies… credit cards, banks, mortgage, can reach the audience that we have. They’re looking to reach their future consumer. But their future consumer that isn’t so ‘future consumer’ because they’re actively looking for houses, for banks that have their best interests in mind. So we’re the only place they can reach them.”

“We also give them a meaningful experience with their advertising where advertisers are able to programme their messaging around relevant editorial content. Not only are they able to showcase their tools in a very natural and organic way, they’e also able to own a content topic. And that’s really unique for what we’re doing, but it also positions them to be having a natural dialogue with their future customers and their consumers and I don’t think anyone else is really doing that right now.”

As a new media platform, many could be forgiven for thinking that social media plays a central role in Cheddar’s success. While the company does leverage channels such as Facebook to amplify distribution, Rosenthal is also aware of the potential dangers that relying too heavily on such channels can carry.

“I mean I’m not completely [anti]. I think you still have to have a Facebook strategy. Facebook is still one of the major players, one of the major publishers. They know what they’re doing. But to rely solely on Facebook distribution is dangerous, you’re not going to be able to put all of your eggs in that basket and come out unscathed. They pull the triggers. They’re able to turn their knobs and adjust the algorithm and be in control of what people see. Not being in control of where people are seeing your content is really dangerous. It’s inherently dangerous to any business model, and how can you not have predictability into where people find you? How do you not put yourself in a well-lit environment around other relevant content? I think it’s just a dangerous model to put all of your bets on.” 

“I think they have been great for tip of the funnel awareness, they have massive reach, but people are not going to watch hours of our content on Facebook and I think a lot of publishers that have made their entire bet on putting all of their content on Facebook are seeing it now. They’re coming out and saying Facebook needs to pay publishers, Facebook needs to be regulated by the government. There are all these public outcries, and we never put ourselves into that area where we would need to panic every month every month when Facebook turned the dial.” 

And finally, with both content forms and technology platforms now evolving at such a rapid rate, we asked Melissa what Cheddar would be doing to keep up with the ongoing change in the industry.

“We are looking to compete. And again, where we are looking to reboot what has consistently worked for older generations and demographics, for younger people. Whether that be a QVC for younger audiences, whether that be older content types where we can really thinking about what does this look like for a younger demographic. The technology is there in a cloud, cost efficient structure. We’re able to staff a cable network with ten people running eight hours a day, where it takes an incumbent thousands of people.” 

“So as the technology evolves, as broadband gets faster and people are able to get more control, technology is at their fingertips and we want to be where people are. Spotify is creating shows that you can listen to in your car, Amazon Alexa, home voice, I think that’s a fairly big part. We want people to be able to consume us either in hour increments or in snippets and that’s where we follow he technology and we let it lead us and we make the decisions and pull the trigger very quickly.”

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