Published: Dec. 12, 2020

When the pandemic hit, Gunnar Autterson was already collaborating on a Chrome web extension that would turn streaming minutes into donations. But the project started gaining steam during the March lockdown after Autterson realized that millions were now home streaming more content than normal; at the same time, nonprofit organizations would need the support more than ever.

The goal was to attract users to download the extension, 4thWall, and use it to stream shows on Netflix, Hulu or Prime Video to earn points that unlock free donations. The users earn one point for every minute streamed; 250 points unlocks a donation worth $8 to help support communities that the user cares about, including several emerging businesses on Kiva, an international microlending website. Content providers willing to pay for aggregated, anonymous information about viewer behavior would fund the support for charitable organizations.

Nine months later, their Chrome Extension, 4thWall, has donated 39,000 meals to Feeding America and Meals on Wheels, and directed more than $10,000 to other charities through its 375 users. 

Autterson is adamant that a user's privacy is guarded with the utmost care and personal data that can be tied back to a user, such as names and email addresses, are never sold. “Data responsibility is really important to me,” says Autterson. 

While watching programs, users share three types of information: the show title, the viewing region and the time spent watching. The company then compiles this information and sells aggregated anonymous community trends. Users are also given access to some of the information via a “Top Shows” feature on the platform. 

Autterson graduates this December with a BS in Creative Technology and Design from the College of Engineering and Applied Science. All students graduating from the ATLAS program complete a culminating project during their senior year; for Autterson, it was 4thWall. 

How it works

4thWall was built using Google’s Chrome Extension, Cloud and Firebase, with the front end designed with Adobe Creative Suite. Autterson also used Whimsical web software to create the layout for the three main features: donations, top shows and achievements. Michael Wegner, 4thWall’s CTO, a computer science major who graduated from CU Boulder in 2020, completed the backend development. 

Although only 17 percent of total streaming is from laptops, there is a demand for this data; the information is not currently being collected by other companies, Autterson says. And while Netflix, Hulu and Prime Video each collect their own data, 4thWall is able to offer aggregate trends across multiple platforms rather than individual platforms, which is more valuable, he adds.

To spread the word and increase the number of 4thWall users, Autterson, who is also a freelance web designer and photographer, asked friends with large social media followings to post about the platform. As a result, the company clocked more than 2 million impressions through Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. However, since viewers accessed the social media postings on their phones, it was difficult to convert this exposure into downloads of 4thWall to computers. To increase enrollees, the founders have since switched tactics and are now working with businesses that promote 4thWall on their websites in exchange for free advertising on 4thWall.

The company also creates partnerships with businesses that cultivate their own communities, such as Tension Climbing, a Denver climbing manufacturer. For every person who signs up to 4thWall with a “Tension” code, 4thWall donates $5 to a youth climbing gym that closed temporarily during the pandemic. In another example, each time students from Kent Denver High School, a private school in Cherry Hills Village, sign up for 4thWall, $5 is donated to the Breakthrough at Kent Denver program to help support their after-school program for underprivileged youth.

Until the company increases its numbers of users, donations earned through 4thWall will be paid by start-up capital invested by the four founders.

As for the future, the team plans to add more streaming platforms and increase the numbers of 4thWall users.

“Helping others is important to me, ” Autterson says. “And I love being able to grow our community and fund more projects every day.”