Here's why Altice USA just dropped $200 million on streaming video start-up Cheddar

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Jon Steinberg

Source: Jon Steinberg

Cable and internet provider Altice USA has agreed to buy news streaming start-up Cheddar for $200 million, snapping up a growing video site with a focus on ad revenue.

Cheddar founder and Chief Executive Jon Steinberg will stay on to lead Altice News, which includes Cheddar, News 12 and i24NEWS, an Israel-based 24-hour international news network. Altice USA CEO Dexter Goei told CNBC that Steinberg should be able to “turbocharge” Altice’s news offerings with a larger balance sheet at his disposal, and help Altice boster its advertising business.

“Cheddar gives us a full suite of news, business and general news to advertise across multiple different markets,” Goei said. “But beyond the product, it’s about bringing on board a management team led by Jon Steinberg that knows how to create good news content and get distributed as broadly as possible.”

Steinberg started Cheddar in 2016 as a live-streaming business channel geared to a millennial audience, and has since expanded into general news. Goei said that Steinberg will continue moving the company into new areas. 

The deal comes as other digital media companies struggle to sustain their growth with Google and Facebook gobbling up the majority of online ad dollars. BuzzFeed and Vice Media recently announced dramatic layoffs, as did Verizon Media Group, which includes HuffPo, Yahoo and TechCrunch. 

Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images

Cheddar has aggressively pushed its programming onto a variety of pay-TV platforms and free streaming services by not charging affiliate fees — revenue paid from a pay-TV provider to the content creator. Cheddar’s linear programming is available to 40 million households through deals with Dish’s Sling TV, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Hulu With Live TV, YouTube TV and others.

Rather than collecting fees from providers, the company has made money through advertising and is on pace to double its revenue to about $50 million this year, Goei said. 

Goei said he was impressed that Steinberg took a niche idea — business news for young people — and grew it into a respectable business through entrepreneurial force. He’s now backed by a company with a market capitalization of $16 billion and an enterprise value of $39 billion, which factors in all of its debt, including what it raised to acquire New York-area cable provider Cablevision for $17.7 billion in 2016.

“What I really care about is Jon being able to do better with our existing businesses and create original content,” Goei said. “This is about maximizing underinvested and underutilized assets at Altice USA.”

The deal for Cheddar was all in cash, though Steinberg, who owns a significant stake, will use half of his proceeds to buy Altice USA stock, Goei said. Steinberg couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Cheddar raised $54 million in venture funding from investors including AT&T, Comcast Ventures (owned by CNBC parent Comcast), Raine Ventures, Liberty Global, Goldman Sachs and Lightspeed Ventures. 

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