Piano Media raises USD2.6 million to bring “cable TV-style” paywall to publishers

Bidding to crack paid online content market

Slovakian firm Piano Media has scored EUR2 million (USD2.6 million) in Series B funding from 3TS Capital for what it describes as a “cable TV-style” paywall for online media. Piano’s model lets consumers pay a flat weekly, monthly or annual fee to subscribe to all participating publishers’ content online. Publishers are then paid shares of this subscription fee depending on how long subscribers spend reading their content. Announcing the funding at Digital Media Europe, CEO Tomas Bella says the firm is now planning to test its model in bigger markets in a bid to crack the paid online content market.

The mental cost of online transactions is quite high,” says Bella. “People don’t have a problem taking EUR2 (USD2.6) or EUR5 (USD6.6) out of their pockets, but if it’s online it’s much harder. The main problem is finding out how much people are willing to pay and what you can charge them.” 

Piano Media is just the latest startup to attempt to tackle the issue of how to monetise content online as publishers battle to boost online revenues. Earlier this month, Paycento announced that its payment service, which lets users pay via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, is being tested by a European media firm. Meanwhile, a range of firms, from Next Issue Media to  Apple to AOL, have launched digital newsstands aimed at making it easier for consumers to discover and subscriber to magazine content. Google is also making a push into the space, partnering with a number of publications on a new service that makes readers complete a short survey before they can access particular articles. With newspaper circulation and print ad revenues continuing to shrink around the world, new models like Piano’s are likely to become increasingly attractive to publishers, who are still struggling to monetise digital content.

The problem most publishers have is that they want to charge for content but they don’t know what kind of content, or how they should do it,” Bella tells StrategyEye. “Our data lets us share the know-how between different publishers in different markets.”

Piano Media is planning to roll out its shared paywall model to eight new markets by 2018, according to Bella, although he declines to outline which ones, saying only that the firm is “in talks” with publishers in Germany, the UK and the US. He adds that Piano will also spend around EUR3 million (USD3.9 million) investing in analytics as the firm continues to experiment with monetising online content. With many publishers still wary of introducing paywalls for fear of losing their readers, Bella says the chief advantage of its model is that subscribers only have to enter their payment details once. They can then access participating publishers’ sites via their Piano Media log-ins.

The idea came up of copying cable TV,” he says. “You get access to everything, you get access to competing TV stations, but you don’t really care who owns who, you don’t care how the money is divided, you just pay one fee.”

Launched in May 2011, Piano expanded to Slovenia in January this year, where it has already signed up eight major publishers, bringing its total to 20 publishers and 60 websites. The firm charges a monthly fee of EUR3.90 (USD5.13) in Slovakia and EUR4.89 (USD6.43) in Slovenia and is hoping to move into a third, undisclosed, country in the summer.

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