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Former Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile wants to save the media industry by blocking ads

His new startup, Scroll, will charge consumers once for an ad-free experience across many news sites on all platforms.

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Scroll CEO Tony Haile onstage Asa Mathat for Vox Media

Once upon a time, newspaper publishers had a great business model: Selling ads that were printed on paper, then selling bundles of those papers to consumers.

Obviously, things have changed — most news is a free commodity and, according to former Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile, some 236 million people around the world block ads online. But Haile’s new company, Scroll, is aimed at fixing both problems at once: He wants to create what amounts to a subscription ad-blocking service, endorsed by the world's biggest publishers.

“In the same way TiVo was a consumer signal that led to Netflix, and Kazaa and Napster and Limewire were consumer signals that led to iTunes and Spotify, then ad blocking is a consumer signal that can lead to Scroll,” Haile said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “How do we get a better ad-free experience across premium media, across the web?”

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The company, which has received funding from the likes of News Corp, Axel Springer and The New York Times, plans to enter beta in Q1 of 2018, and then launch in the second half of the year. Haile wouldn’t say if those publishers would necessarily be Scroll partners, but the goal is to charge one low price to not see ads across a large number of sites, on all platforms — including mobile devices and social media.

“Access models work really well for superfans, but they don’t solve the problem of how to replace casual fans, which is the revenue that advertising has driven for the industry, in general,” he said.

Past attempts to offer ad-blocking experiences — the ones that publishers have signed on for, anyway — have all failed, Haile said, because they added “friction” for the consumer, rather than taking it away.

“Many of the corpses in the graveyard I have to wade through on a daily basis, that have attempted this thing, have come at this by saying, ‘I’m going to create this amazing app,’” he said. “‘It’s going to be a beautiful app. And all you have to do to use it is change everything about how you discover content.’”

“That doesn’t tend to scale,” Haile added. “It can make a very beautiful experience that no one uses. The way Scroll works is, you don’t have to change anything about what you do. You sign up for Scroll and then, whether you come to content from Facebook, Twitter [or] an email newsletter, the site loads, it’s beautiful, clean and ad-free.”

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