Scroll Hopes Its ‘Anti-Programmatic’ Model Will Make a Better Internet

The subscription service bypasses advertising

Scroll, a new service, goes live today. Scroll
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Key Insights

Tony Haile wants to create a better internet.

The former CEO of analytics firm Chartbeat, which paved the way for the race to the pageview business model, wants to make it easy for people to read a page without getting hit over the head with display ads while also providing reliable ways for publishers to make money.

Haile is also CEO of the new service Scroll, which has attracted investment dollars from partners including Union Square Ventures, The New York Times, Axel Springer, Gannet and Samsung, and makes its debut today, running in beta for a few months.

“Everyone’s coming together on the bet that we can build a better business model,” Haile told Adweek.

There’s currently an introductory offer for 30 free days and then $2.49 per month (50% off the regular price) for the next six months. Once consumers have signed up and then signed into a Scroll account, they can navigate to the websites of the 300 publishers participating in the program—including Business Insider, The Atlantic and USA Today—and get an ad-free experience. Up to 70% of the money from subscriptions, Haile said, is then distributed directly to publishers based on metrics including user engagement and loyalty.

“Having spent seven years trying to find a better metric for the internet, I realized it’s the least shifty metric and corresponds nicely with video time and everything else,” Haile said.

The publishers’ websites loaded quickly, at least when previewed ahead of Scroll’s release. But when scrolling down the page, however, it’s clear where the ads used to be, as white space dominates. And Scroll users still have to subscribe to the individual news services to access content behind their paywalls if that’s applicable. Scroll will provide its own analytics to publishers summarizing users’ behaviors.

The service, which is programmed into the code of publishers’ websites, is going live even though major traditional publishers are not using it. That includes some that have invested, including The New York Times and News Corp.

As the network matures, Haile said, he envisions having average RPMs between $25 and $30. He argued that the money publishers earn from Scroll subscribers will theoretically make up for what they would lose on advertising.

“In a weird way, some publishers think of this almost like a weird anti-programmatic for them, in that a user is coming to the page and instead of BMW or Mercedes winning the bids that define the experience, the user themselves is doing so,” Haile said. “They’re getting a better experience that they choose to live life on a better internet, effectively with the publisher making more money.”

Scroll offered Business Insider the opportunity to give readers the online experience they wanted, even if that meant one without ads, said Claudius Senst, a member of the Insider Inc. management team. It also gave Insider Inc. yet another way to diversify its revenue stream.

“From a business point of view, we have lots of programmatic partners that are purchasing ads on our page, like Scroll. Scroll is buying advertising on our site,” Senst said. “It’s adding more choice to all partners.”

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.