Crypto media runs with the bulls as new entrants compete against established brands

How has the Bitcoin bull run changed crypto media?

New opportunities arise during each Bitcoin bull run. The current ebullience has been driven by an influx of institutional investors, along with major payment providers like PayPal and Mastercard. 

But why are they here to begin with? Much of the recent enthusiasm can be attributed to the vast and vociferous audience that's been developed by a few organizations on the front-line: The crypto media companies that have spent the last few years educating millions of early adopters on the trillion-dollar crypto market as a whole.

Joon Ian Wong, co-president of The Association of Cryptocurrency Journalists and Researchers — a non-profit organization that advocates for quality journalism and research on cryptocurrencies and blockchains — told Cointelegraph that bull runs build new audiences:

“CoinDesk was started during the 2013 bull run, when Bitcoin went up from $10 to $100 dollars. I was writing for CoinDesk then and we were a big beneficiary of Bitcoin’s rising price. I remember BBC News and CNN would call us asking for the ‘CEO of Bitcoin’ since CoinDesk would come up as the main result for a news source. People had no idea of what Bitcoin was back then.”

He further noted that existing crypto media outlets have doubled down and grown, as each bull run creates a stronger, more robust ecosystem. According to independent analytics, Cointelegraph's audience alone has more than doubled to over 20 million views per month since the end of 2020.

Newly-formed media outlets

A number of new crypto media outlets have been created during the 2020-2021 Bitcoin bull run. Blockworks — the financial media brand behind the successful “Pomp Podcast” — recently launched a crypto-focused news site to help professional investors understand Bitcoin and digital currencies.

Jason Yanowitz, co-founder of Blockworks, told Cointelegraph that in March 2020 the company’s month-over-month revenue dropped 80%. Yanowitz noted that this was a “frightening time” for the Brooklyn-based firm which was launched in 2018:

“We went back to basics and spoke with our core audience – the hedge funds, financial advisors, and more traditional capital markets professionals who are interested in digital assets. Our main takeaway was that there still wasn't a single source of information for these investors.”

Yanowitz explained that he and his team worked daily from April-December 2020 to build out the new Blockworks media site to solve this ongoing problem. “Bitcoin has become more relevant than ever. It's time we had a media site that ties Bitcoin and crypto into the global macro conversation — that's Blockworks,” he remarked.

In contrast to Blockworks, Ran Neuner, host of CNBC’s Crypto Trader show, told Cointelegraph that he recently launched the world’s first livestreaming crypto station — a platform clearly oriented more to the growing retail and semi-pro audience. According to Neuner, a livestreaming crypto information platform hadn’t existed until now. He found this to be problematic, stating:

“If you want livestreaming information on stocks, you can get that on CNBC or other mainstream stations. But there was no such thing as livestreaming information for crypto. You would have to be on Twitter or Telegram to get this information, but these platforms are so full of noise they are unusable.”

As a result, Neuner launched Crypto Banter on YouTube, which he describes as a “combination of Bloomberg and CNBC” — a credible, yet fun source for crypto information. In addition, Neuner mentioned there is a Friday show called “Big Banter,” which allows listeners to call in and chat directly with Neuner and his guests. “This is the future of media and certainly the future of crypto media,” Neuner remarked.

Neuner makes an important point regarding interactivit. Deloitte's 2021 media and entertainment industry outlook report notes that streaming platforms today should focus on customers’ needs first, stating, “To improve retention, they should address customers’ challenges and preferences through content windowing, tiered pricing, tailored services, and social experiences.”

“Social experiences” resonated with Nuener. He explained that he previously tried a CNBC show on YouTube, but the audience did not respond well to a television show on a non-TV platform. “Our audience wants short, hard hitting, interactive content where they can comment and discuss topics with us on the show.”

Neuner suggested that in launching "CoinDesk TV" the venerable brand made a mistake by trying to develop a serious television feel for a crypto audience. CoinDesk TV, which is rumored to have cost the company over $5M to launch, incorporates “TV-inspired programming, with 24 straight hours of live streamed shows with guests and hosts in locales ranging from New York to South Korea to the U.K. and Spain” according to a recent article.

While it’s hard to predict the success of a newly-launched platform, Neuner noted that the crypto target market is different. “They don’t respond well to untelevised mediums. Our approach is much more informal and fun, yet credible and curated.”

Established crypto publications restructure for growth

In addition to new publications and platforms, established crypto media publications have taken new measures to prepare for future growth.

Crypto Briefing, a news and research publication formed during the 2017-18 bull run that also spawned Decrypt and The Block, recently appointed Mitchell Moos, the former editor-in-chief, as the company’s chief executive officer. Moos told Cointelegraph that this transition is similar to Cointelegraph’s decision to appoint former editor-in-chief Jay Cassano to CEO. “We're following the lead of Cointelegraph on this one. Jay Cassano started out in the newsroom and now he's heading up the publication.”

According to Moos, distrust towards media companies appears to be at an all-time high. A recent yearlong study from Pew Research Center reaffirms this, showing that 75% of U.S. adults say it’s possible to improve the level of confidence Americans have in news media. Moos explained:

“Part of that is the conflict of interest between advertisers, owners, and readers. Putting journalists at the head of these businesses is a good way to realign publications with the interests of the public.”

Moos further noted that Crypto Briefing was planning to make this transition regardless of the current Bitcoin bull market. “At a certain point, the founder is not necessarily the best person to take a business from its startup phase to maturity,” he remarked.

While Crypto Briefing restructured, other publications introduced new features to further engage with readers. For example, Decrypt recently launched its own token for readers. According to a Decrypt article, the concept behind the Decrypt token is simple: “You earn DCPT for reading Decrypt articles, sharing them with a friend, and reacting to them, all inside our mobile app. Soon, readers who've amassed enough tokens can redeem them for digital rewards.”

As Decrypt has taken a rewards-for-engagement approach, Cointelegraph has moved toward an additional revenue stream with “Cointelegraph Markets Pro,” a platform designed in conjunction with The TIE, a leading quantitative and social data firm, to bring professional crypto market intelligence to every investor. Over 1,400 subscribers signed up on the platform to enhance their market research in the first month of operation.

It’s also notable that one of the world’s most referenced price-tracking sites for crypto, CoinMarketCap — which was launched in 2013 — now includes a full-fledged content platform. Known as “Alexandria,” this outlet was created in the fall of 2020, right before the current bull run began.

Molly Jane Zuckerman, content manager for CoinMarketCap, told Cointelegraph that Alexandria’s target audience are newcomers to the crypto space:

“Because CoinMarketCap acts as this giant funnel — whenever anyone Googles ‘Bitcoin’ they usually find themselves on CoinMarketCap — we attract a lot of first time users to the crypto space.”

Zuckerman explained that Alexandria was created to retain beginners to get them interested in cryptocurrencies, beyond just the prices. “Our Bitcoin price page has a huge amount of information, but we wanted to add that extra layer — knowing Bitcoin’s price is cool, but it’s infinitely cooler if you also know who Satoshi Nakamoto is,” she remarked.

Challenges to overcome

Although new crypto media platforms have formed and growth for established publications is underway, a number of challenges exist.

Wong explained that crypto media faces the same challenges as any vertical, with one exception — it’s more difficult to maintain independence and editorial integrity. Wong stated:

“This is a very liquid space, fortunes are being made overnight. Maintaining editorial integrity will prove the value of independent press and journalism. The challenge with crypto is that it’s a small space where you can make much more money compared to other sectors.”

Editor-in-chief of Cointelegraph Jon Rice disagrees with Wong's assessment. "The narrative that crypto media journalists are greedy, self-serving shills is lazy and antiquated, and it's really only advanced by people outside the industry." 

"I've worked with over 150 reporters in this field over the last four years, and the truth is that the vast majority have a deeply ethical commitment to their work. Those few who don't, get found out quickly — and fired." 

"The opacity of the sector is more a function of its complexity, particularly for mainstream journalists who don't spend their lives ingesting the intricacies of DeFi and NFTs, and who instead are forced to write in generalizations about innovations they — quite understandably — don't entirely comprehend," continued Rice. "As Arthur C. Clarke noted, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,' and as a species we're generally skeptical of wizardry and witchcraft."

For sites like CoinMarketCap, which are known for price-tracking, the challenge has been getting readers to move from the site’s homepage to Alexandria. “One of our biggest problems is actually how powerful CoinMarketCap is — nobody wants to get off our homepage,” Zuckerman remarked.

Zuckerman explained that the site is experimenting with different distribution strategies to make sure the content is seen and getting traction. One of the strategies to ensure this is getting prominent people in the crypto space to author works on Alexandria. “It’s a cliche, but the crypto space moves so quickly that we have to be on our toes to make sure we have the educational content to cover everything as it happens, and working with authors that are the ones making it happen is a good way to do so.”

Finally, a major concern facing every media outlet is retaining customers. This can especially be challenging for new, livestreaming platforms, like Neuner’s Crypto Banter. Neuner, however, explained that the show hasn’t had a problem retaining customers, claiming that he's seen 30% to 50% growth per month in terms of subscribers. “If you have the right format and a product that doesn't exist yet... then the audience will come."

Yet despite these challenges, Wong believes that the future of cryptocurrency-focused publications looks bright. “There are very few verticals in media today that are as lucrative, with such high potential, as crypto media,” said Wong.

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