Brave Software, the company behind the niche Brave browser, earlier this month opened its digital currency-based reward system to YouTube content creators, giving users a way to send influencers small amounts of cash.
"Audiences can use the Brave Payments system to reward their favorite YouTube creators with Basic Attention Tokens (BAT)," read an unsigned post to the company's blog. "YouTube viewers can either distribute contributions based on the time they spend viewing material or by 'pinning' a set amount for a particular channel."
The experiment was the first to depart from Brave's usual reimbursement rules, which let browser users select nothing more specific than a domain as a BAT destination.
Brave Software's underlying model and its business plan are, to put it mildly, unusual. The browser puts a price on online users' attention with blockchain-based tokens that eventually will be traded between publishers, advertisers and consumers willing to view ads. At the moment, however, the only real money in the system is what individual users have loaded into their electronic wallets as they experiment with the browser.
The BAT concept is designed as a substitute for traditional online advertising, which Brave Software claims is broken. "[Brave] enables a direct monetary relationship between the content creator and their audience," the blog post continued. "Users can decide who to compensate."
Users of Brave can track where their Basic Attention Tokens (BATs) go, and with a recent update, shovel tiny amounts of cash to their preferred YouTube content creators, assuming the latter register.
To be eligible for receipt of BATs - which can be converted into physical currency - content creators must verify their identity and their YouTube channel with Brave Software, meaning that for significant participation, the browser maker must get the word out. It was unclear whether Brave Software plans such an outreach, and if so, how or whether it would rely on its users to tell content creators to register.
By compensating creators individually, and directly, Brave Software avoids paying YouTube, the platform. Brave Software pointed out that the scheme may be especially interesting to those who don't meet the 10,000-lifetime-view minimum that YouTube requires before it begins sharing advertising revenue with those who shoot videos.
The strategy can also be scaled, Brave Software contended. "We plan on extending BAT to additional user-generated content platforms so that more creators can benefit from audience support," said the company.
Brave's YouTube plan may be attractive to some advertisers, said Lizzy Foo Kune, principal research analyst at Gartner, in an interview. Marketers searching for alternatives to traditional web advertising, she argued, are looking at influencers, among them people with popular YouTube channels, to boost their brands.
"This might be enticing from a marketer's point of view, [to conduct] influence marketing by directing the payments back to the creators," she said.
Brave's approach seems pertinent to niche or regional marketing and advertising, Foo Kune added, because it could provide revenue to YouTube-based influencers - like some of the "YouTube beauty personalities" highlighted in a recent piece in the New York Times - who have a small but growing audience.
"You're seeing two different things here," Foo Kune said of reasons why Brave's angle might work. "From an advertising perspective, putting choice back in the hands of the customers is embracing a forward-thinking viewpoint. Second, marketers are looking for something in addition to pure conversions. They're also looking at engagement, measuring customer attention. Brave's approach implies that you can assign a dollar amount to customer attention."
For YouTube, the Brave browser logs the viewing time spent watching a registered content contributor; in turn, the viewing time generates BATs, which are stored, then distributed as the user directs. Some content creators can be compensated, while others are not; some can be allotted a larger share of the available BATs, others much smaller slices.
It seems unlikely that the Brave browser will upend the existing advertising ecosystem, or immediately transform the web. The browser doesn't yet appear on analytics vendors' lists of user or usage share. Compared to the likes of Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, Microsoft's Edge or Apple's Safari, Brave is a midget.
(Officially Brave Software doesn't reveal its active user numbers, but elsewhere, its CEO has claimed that about a million people use it each month. According to the CoinDesk website, approximately 243,000 Brave browser wallets have been opened so far, perhaps a better signal of the number of dedicated users.)
"A critical mass to adopt the technology," was Foo Koon's answer to how Brave the browser could succeed. But it might make inroads, enough to survive, with less than, say, a triumph over Firefox, currently the No. 3 browser globally. "The implication for marketers is that Brave is creating an audience of users conscious of what ads they want to see. [Those marketers] could be satisfied with that."
The Brave browser can be downloaded for Windows, macOS and Linux from Brave Software's website; the iOS and Android versions can be obtained from the Apple App Store and Google Play, respectively.