By Victor Agreda
There are a number of blockchain plays out there rewarding users for their consumptive habits. Current wants to do that and is hoping to reduce some of the friction around dapps (distributed applications) in the process. I spoke to Dan Novaes, the CEO and co-founder of Current about what makes it different.
Novaes explains that there are two types of consumers of media: those who pay for a service and those who allow ads to subsidize their media habits. Current wants both because the company aims to reward consumers as they consume their media no matter how they’re getting it. The CRNC token will be used to pay for subscriptions, or on the other side of the equation it can buy advertising within its ecosystem. That ecosystem includes any service that chooses to integrate its platform. The hope, as always, is to monetize something people are already doing: watching or listening.
Addressing Adoption Barriers
But how is the company reducing friction? Novaes admits setting up a wallet, and getting into dapps can be a chore for consumers. Current is taking the approach of getting users first, then converting them later. He says, “That’s one of the biggest issues that plagues crypto — it’s just hard to use in all aspects.” Current “slowly introduces the concept” of the blockchain to consumers, and leaves it up to them to step deeper into crypto waters if they choose. When you sign up, you get a wallet automatically even if you never use it. As you might guess, the worm on the hook is being rewarding for consuming. “When you’re downloading the consumer-facing Current app, you’re earning credits,” explains Novaes. Those credits aren’t really a token (they can’t be traded), they’re more akin to points and work as a stable price system inside the app. Users can later exchange those for tokens, if they choose to. If you just want to use credits, you can still use them for premium services, and the company is looking into converting those into its own token, Bitcoin, Ether, or even Paypal cash. “In order for mainstream users to see value in these companies, you have to provide something that’s useful,” he says.
As for how Current is integrating with other media platforms, Novaes says each is a little different. For YouTube, iTunes, and Spotify, they’re building on top of the developer portal. In other cases, they may have a direct partnership. The company has also aggregated thousands of radio stations, much like the ubiquitous TuneIn app. If Current can build more partnerships, it will indeed have a strong hand to play in this space. For now, its bolting on to existing services, and it remains to be seen if YouTube and others will allow that to continue indefinitely. As long as media companies and purveyors of media are still getting those users somehow, it could work out as a win-win.
Novaes was a little murky on how the company will deal with those looking to game the system, but he did mention nag screens — interrupting a user if the system thinks they’ve tuned out — to make sure people are engaged and not just setting their phones down and walking away to earn credits by not really engaging with content. The concept is much like “proof of attention.” The system will look for user patterns, and if they seem tuned out, it will prompt users to ensure they’re still watching or listening. If they don’t check in, they might not earn as many credits.
Advertisers and User Data
Then there’s the other side of the equation: advertisers. How does Current work there? Obviously tokens and credits can be used within its system, but what about user data? Here Novaes acknowledges crypto users tend to be bigger fans of privacy than your average Facebook user. Most social networks offer little granularity as to what information you give up. Google and Facebook suck up enormous amounts of data about you, and it’s practically impossible to opt out of all of it. Current hopes to acquire first party data by opt-in and achieve higher CPMs as a result. As Novaes says, “It’s not just about basic information. We’re also looking into other unique ways — working with market research companies — to examine shopping preferences, location data, and a variety of things that are opt-in behaviors users can allow to unlock additional revenue. As much as you put into it, that’s what you get out of it.” For advertisers, that could be a golden opportunity, and for users it allows them to opt-in as they see fit. Of course, this tactic is very much a gamification of opt-in, and provides incentives for users to pony up their data for rewards.
Right now Current is building a community and encouraging referrals and sharing. Things like curating a radio station and sharing it unlocks rewards, which is a powerful vector of growth in this space. Most people don’t get rewarded for curation, even though it’s something radio stations have relied upon for years and something YouTubers and Spotify users rave about. Of course, radio stations have teams of people making playlists, and using ad dollars to fund the operation — something they’ve been doing for decades.
The company continues to push its apps with an existing iOS app and an Android app coming soon. Novaes says they get “several thousand” new users a day, and the iOS app has around 1.5 million users. Novaes and Current are betting big on incentivizing users to consume more, share more, and generally participate more, and he believes while platforms fight over subscribers the future will be participation, not just passive subscriptions. If Current can incentivize a big enough group, users will get the benefit of premium services in exchange for engaging those services as they normally would. That’s the win-win they’re hoping for, but it could take a while to get there.