Chicken Soup and Covid-19: A Success Story

No, the story is not about how eating chicken soup can cure or prevent Covid-19: it’s a pandemic success story based on streaming media, with a telecoms entrepreneur at its heart.

The almost universal lockdowns spawned a huge need for entertainment, and while Netflix benefited enormously, counting 200 million new subscribers and a 49% rise in share price, it hasn’t been the only game in town, alongside big name competitors Amazon and Disney. Quietly and without much fanfare, a small company called Chicken Soup For The Soul Entertainment has been “gobbling up lesser known streamers, film distribution and production companies,” to quote Matt Schifrin at Forbes. In the last 12 months, Chicken Soup’s o-t-c traded shares soared by 289%— nearly six times as much as Netflix.

Perhaps you have come across some of its products, such as Going From Broke, produced by Ashton Kutcher, which offers reality TV-style budgeting advice to debt-laden Millennials? And there is a film called Willy’s Wonderland, which stars Nicolas Cage. Both of these actors are big names. So how does it operate, and why haven’t we heard much about it?

Chicken Soup isn’t in business to win awards, yet it still has millions of viewers for its programming, thanks to “savvy marketing and an opportunistic collection of streaming networks, distribution and production companies.” It is now a leader in the so-called AVOD or advertising-video-on-demand sector of the streaming entertainment business.

The plan to disrupt subscription services

What is that, you ask? It is advertising-supported channels streamed over the internet to laptops and smart TVs. According to Statista, this mode of streaming accounted for $27 billion in revenues in 2020 and is expected to grow to $56 billion by 2024. YouTube is an example of this that you are most likely familiar with. But Roku TV, ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV and Amazon’s IMDb Freedive are also involved.

The plan, you might say, is that subscribers will get fed up with the cost of subscription services, and will turn instead to free channels supported by advertising, such as Chicken Soup’s Crackle.

In 2020, Chicken Soup made $68 million, which some might say is chicken feed. However, it has just announced that it would be acquiring the assets of Hollywood’s Sonar Entertainment for what sources close to the deal estimate to be valued at $100 million. This will give it access to a catalogue of TV and films containing the top names in the business. Schifrin says: “In all, the deal includes a library of 372 television series and 700 films plus ongoing development deals with the A-listers like Ridley Scott, Jon Favreau, David E. Kelley and Jordan Peele.”

The entrepreneur behind Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup For The Soul Entertainment is the brainchild of William Rouhana Jr, and Schifrin remarks, “Having learned dealmaking during telecom’s Wild West, the structure of the Sonar deal is vintage Rouhana” When Rouhana first acquired Chicken Soup for the Soul in 2008, it was mainly in the business of publishing inspirational paperback books. Now he has leveraged its brand—and cash flow—to get into internet-based entertainment. Rouhani said, “I felt like video on the internet was clearly a very important part of the future. I have believed that since 1993 when I first created WinStar. The whole point of it was to deliver video over our broadband network to people.”

He added, “My plan is to keep building this for a couple more years. As we move into 2022, we will have one new TV series or movie coming to our networks each week. That kind of pace has never been seen before in advertising video on demand nor has an AVOD ever owned the amount of content that we will now own.”

A good entrepreneur story is hard to beat, and this is going to be an interesting one to keep following.

Neobanks still need to build personal relationships

Catalan neobank 11Onze has taken a novel approach to training its recruits in the art of building personal relationships with customers. Anyone who has used  a neobank is aware that without physical branches it is far more difficult to achieve that very thing consumers value in traditional banks – someone they can talk to, and who is designated as their personal banking advisor.

11Onze decided on a pop up Acadamy to take 50 recruits through a 250-hour training course focused on building personal relationships in a digital age.

11Onze COO Darren Smith, who is leading the training, said, “Our philosophy for the whole bank, not just for the campus, is about creating something truly exceptional. The first experience a customer will have with our organisation will be digital and we place a lot of emphasis in the technology and the user experience. However, we wanted to go much further than this. In a digital age we are worried that the personal relationships we build over time get lost and at 11Onze we wanted to bring relationship into fintech banking. We want our customers to have a long and meaningful, personal relationship with our representatives.”

Another reason for setting up the course is Covid-19 and the prevalence of remote working. The neobank’s agents will continue to work from home for some time, which is why 11Onze wanted to ensure that the recruits could also have a means to forge relationships with each other and with senior team members, as well as learn how to build robust client relationships. The bank also wanted the team members to build support networks, which James Sene, Chairman and founder of 11Onze says is impossible to do on Zoom calls.

He said: “The pop up academy was designed to provide a Covid safe and secure environment to give them all the knowledge, skills and tools required to be able to deliver an exceptionally high quality customer service experience. The Academy trained the “whole person” – and our programme places as much emphasis and priority on personal skills, mental and physical health and well-being, as it does on technical and professional skills.”

The importance of teaching customer relationship building

The Academy course delved into psychology and philosophy alongside learning to use new hardware and software. And it included yoga classes. A production team followed the new recruits and asked them to share stories of their journey and development. There is a marketing purpose behind this as Sene points out: “11Onze customers will be able to review and follow the personal journeys of our agents and this will help them develop a real relationship with the customer services representatives.”

He added, “In the digital age, we are concerned that the personal relationship we build will be lost over time, so, at 11Onze we aim to recover that “relationship” aspect that a traditional bank offers to establish links with the community in addition to withdrawing money or depositing it. We want our clients to have a long and meaningful personal relationship with our representatives.”

11Onze makes a very important point with its pop-up Academy idea: whilst challenger banks are often perceived as offering a better service than traditional banks, there are elements of the traditional way that mustn’t be overlooked, particularly customer relationships, because human psychology is very attuned to that need, and fantastic technology won’t easily remove it.

Cardano’s extraordinary 2021 success

While Bitcoin and Ethereum still hold the top spots on the crypto leader board, Cardano (ADA) was the top performer in terms of percentage gains, with a staggering 560% return in Q1. It is now the No. 5 cryptocurrency by market capitalization, according to Messari data.

ADA is the native token for the smart-contract blockchain Cardano, and its value tripled in February as traders bet on the success of the so-called “Ethererum Killers.” Ethereum as you know dominates the smart contract space and currently most DeFi projects are on its blockchain. This February success was followed by Coinbase exchange listing ADA in March, making it available to both institutional and retail members.

Significantly, Cardano became a multi-asset chain following its hard fork on 1st March this year, Named ‘Mary’, the hard fork allows users to create tokens that run on Cardano natively, just as ADA does. This is something that sparked a great deal of interest in Ethereum. When it enabled new tokens to be made on its platform, it was one of the first big use cases that caught on for Ethereum. It also made possible 2017’s multi-billion dollar initial coin offering splurge.

Enabling new tokens is a step on the path to full smart-contract functionality, so no wonder Cardano’s CEO Charles Hoskinson called the hard fork “historic.” Hoskinson, who founded IOHK, which runs Cardano, was an Ethereum and BitShares co-founder.

And, on 3rd April, IOHK announced that a further milestone had been reached with the Cardano blockchain now completely decentralized. This means that the community, or the network’s 2200 stake pool operators, are now exclusively responsible for block production on the network. To put this in perspective: Bitcoin’s blockchain, “is largely in the hands of the ten most prominent Bitcoin mining pools, which account for 85% of the network’s block production,” Samyuktha Sriram reports at Yahoo! Finance.

Do the numbers matter? Yes. Diversifying the block production across a larger number of people increases the security of the blockchain. It’s a big part of the argument for decentralisation. Cardano’s product director at IOHK, “Achieving decentralization of block production is significant not just for Cardano but also the wider blockchain industry.” The next steps for Cardano will be decentralization of the other two elements – governance and network. The governance is already in the pipeline with IOHK’s Project Catalyst, an $80 million fund that was funded by the community, which in turn votes on proposals for the improvement of the network.

Whilst Ethereum tends to dominate DeFi news, Cardano’s success in 2021 suggests that it is going to be a strong player in the smart contract sector. If you haven’t considered buying Cardano’s ADA before, perhaps now might be the right time to dip your toes in.

The PoW versus PoS debate

The current big question in the battle between bitcoin and Ethereum, as ETH plans to move from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake, is which works best: PoW or PoS. although it has been an ongoing argument, it has been given some fresh prominence due to the steps Ethereum is taking to speed up the move.

Simon Chandler asks: “While the Ethereum developers have decided that PoS is the best way forward for Ethereum, the question remains as to whether it might offer advantages to Bitcoin, which, as a store of value, has different aims.”

According to Chandler opinion is quite divided in the crypto community: those supporting PoW believe that it is better fro Bitcoin, because it offers greater stability and security. The PoS supporters say that PoS offers similar security, and that it provides more simplicity and scalability, which is very important.

It also has less of an impact on the environment compared with transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain. Pierre Rochard commenting on Twitter wrote, “When Ethereum switches from proof-of-work mining to proof-of-stake, they’re going to push the “green” anti-Bitcoin narrative *hard*. It’s going to be well funded and highly coordinated. If you thought the 2017 scaling debate was ugly, this is going to be much much nastier.” Needless to say, the tweet brought up a lot of differing responses.

Chandler contacted a confirmed Bitcoiner who responded by saying the PoW vs. PoS debate isn’t even worth addressing, adding, “I don’t use shitcoins.” Those who are less partisan see both Proofs as having their own strengths and weaknesses, although it would seem ther is a consensus that PoW is better for Bitcoin.

The main ‘weakness’ with the PoS model is that it is “theoretically more prone to centralization and has the inherent security issue of using the native tokens of a blockchain to decide the future of those tokens or the blockchain,” according to Mike Collyer, CEO at Foundry, a crypto mining finance company. And even those who support Ethereum acknowledge that PoW has its strengths. Lex Sokolin, co-head at Ethereum-focused major blockchain company ConsenSys said, “One of the strongest advantages of proof of work is that it has worked as the chassis for cryptographic security for over 10 years, and now secures a trillion in value. It is technically and economically complex, which plays a role in attracting specialized mining companies to the work of maintaining the network.”

However, Sokolin also said, “Proof of stake is an easier-to-understand system, which allows easier participation through the staking of capital. It is also able to achieve similar security outcomes without the electricity consumption of the proof of work mechanism, and has been proven to work through a number of smaller but functional crypto economic networks.” He also explained why PoS is better for the Ethereum network, which is aiming to provide the digital infrastructure for a future decentralized/crypto-based financial system. “The blockchain-based economic activity that we see is now far above and beyond moving one type of value around on a single protocol. Rather, we see software executed by a global network across payments, lending, banking, investing, and insurance substitutes,” Sokolin said, and stated that this is the main reason Ethereum needs to move to PoS.  But it seems that this is a debate that will rage on in the crypto community for some time to come.