Cheddar Buys MTV Networks on Campus to Launch ‘CheddarU’

Online news programmer adds 1,600 TV screens on 600 campuses
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Cheddar, the business and tech-news programmer aimed at younger audiences, will directly target college students in public places on campuses via today’s acquisition of Viacom’s MTV Networks on Campus distribution platform, officials said.

Cheddar is creating a new channel, CheddarU, to show on the satellite-delivered platform, built for Viacom’s mtvu service, Cheddar founder and CEO Jon Steinberg told Multichannel News.

Cheddar founder and CEO Jon Steinberg

Jon Steinberg

CheddarU will feature live “non-partisan headline news,” tech coverage and “startup stories” to screens in public spaces and dorm rooms, Cheddar said, building on the recently launched Cheddar Big News channel.

Steinberg, who would not discuss financial terms of the acquisition, said CheddarU would launch Aug. 1, ahead of students’ arrival, on 1,600 publicly located TV screens in cafeterias, gyms and other common areas on more than 600 campuses across the country.

Over the next 18 to 24 months, the plan is to double that reach, he said, and to replace older screens that need upgrading.

“We’ve now combined our live news offering with our own distribution,” Steinberg said in a Cheddar statement. “We own our content; we own our pipes. In live news, no one will have a larger college audience, and we will invest in our content every minute of every day to inform, entertain, and inspire this audience. From our studios, through our control rooms, to our encoders, through our satellite uplink and downlink, right to the TV screens, now, no one sits between Cheddar and our viewers.”

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Cheddar said mtvu currently has an average minute audience of 39,000 adults (measured by Nielsen in spring 2018), is the largest millennial college cable channel in the country and is the No. 1 digital out-of-home network among adults ages 18 to 24.

Mtvu will continue to operate as mtvu over its other distribution platforms, including existing pay-TV provider affiliates, the companies said. Mtvu affiliates include Fios, Charter, Dish Network, Cox Communications, Frontier, Mediacom and NCTC members.

Kagan, S&P Global Market Intelligence, estimated mtvu generated $5 million in gross ad revenue in 2017 and had 6.2 million subscribers, though MTV sources put the subscriber figure at 11 million. Mtvu launched in 2004.

Millennials can be challenging for TV advertisers to reach, having since 2014 cut back on their traditional TV viewing by about one third, Colin Dixon, chief analyst and founder at nScreenMedia, said. “That’s the audience that’s disconnecting from traditional media the fastest,” he said. A free programming service located on campuses can be “a great way to go about it,” he said.

But if the advertising isn’t personalized or appealing to that audience, “then they will struggle to attract users away from platforms like YouTube or Netflix, which they’re probably already using,” Dixon said.

Brett Sappington, senior director of research at Parks Associates, also said college students “carry their content and music wherever they go,” so public-screen programming “has to be compelling enough to get people to put down their phones and be willing to look at the television.”

News programming has a chance to do so, if it’s relevant and delivered in real time, unlike on-demand fare, Sappington said. “Everything from election results to a school shooting, that’s all very relevant, so I can see why that would be particularly appealing.”

CheddarU service, including hardware and installation, will be available free to all qualifying campuses across the country, the company said.

Chegg, an online textbook provider, and music streamer Pandora will be launch sponsors of CheddarU, contributing to education- and music-related content, respectively, Cheddar said. Existing Cheddar sponsors include Dunkin’, TradeStation, Fidelity, Ally, HP, E*Trade and Goldman Sachs, the programmer said.

"Music is part of the fiber of the college experience," Pandora CEO Roger Lynch said in a Cheddar release. "Playing a role in Cheddar U's launch as the official music partner is a great opportunity to reach millions of students with updates and insights on what's trending, who's touring and just the right playlist for Friday night."

Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig said in the release: “Chegg is the defining college learning platform and now Cheddar is the largest campus news network. We are excited to partner with Cheddar on content around learning, study and career development.”

Two-year-old Cheddar operates two live news channels, Cheddar (business news) and Cheddar Big News.

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It continues to add distribution outlets, including Sling TV, Hulu, YouTube TV, Layer3 TV (now part of T-Mobile), Snapchat, Amazon, Twitter, Twitch, Facebook and smart TVs.

It recently launched on Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Altice USA’s Altice One platforms and, in the out-of-home realm, has teamed with ReachMe.TV in airports and hotels.

CheddarU is part of a location-based video unit of Cheddar (ChedNet), distributing programming to hotels, airport lounges, stadiums and other locations.

LionTree Advisors advised Cheddar on the Viacom transaction.

In March, Cheddar said it landed a $22 million Series D round led by Raine Ventures. Existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, Comcast Ventures, AT&T, Altice USA, The New York Stock Exchange, Ribbit Capital, and Amazon participated, as did new investors including Liberty Global, Goldman Sachs, Antenna Group, 7 Global Capital and Dentsu Ventures. 

Expanding distribution was one of the goals of the capital raise, as was the launch of Cheddar Big News   

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