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CBS-owned stations added to free VUit streaming service

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The VUit streaming platform is enriched with news bulletins from World Paramount‘s owned and operated local CBS television stations as the fledgling service sought to further entrench itself in the sprawling local news market in the United States.

Streaming newscasts from 13 CBS-owned and operated stations, including two in major markets of New York and Los Angeles, and CBS entertainment programs like “Inside Edition,” are added to the platform free ad-supported.

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“We’ve been in this type of soft-launch mode for a few years. Getting a critical mass of stations was the first goal. This deal with CBS gets us a big chunk of the United States,” said Jack Perry, CEO from Syncbak, the streaming technology company behind VUit.

“VUit is a product built around local news, and we are excited to add our 13 local streaming channels to expand their coverage in the United States,” said Sahand Sepehernia, senior vice president of streaming at CBS Stations. “We have a long-standing relationship with Syncbak and are excited to expand our partnership with Jack and his team.”

VUit, pronounced “watch it,” quietly added local newscasts and original, hyperlocal shows like mountain bike races and high school sports, from more than 260 broadcast stations over the two last years.

The growth of the service is coming at an inflection point for the media industry. Streaming has disrupted the traditional pay-TV package, with companies reporting steep subscriber losses as consumers continue to switch to streaming.

At the same time, the streaming business model is under pressure as fierce competition weighs on subscriber numbers and content costs soar. Much of the industry has shifted to offering ad-supported tiers, providing a cheaper option for consumers and generating another revenue stream. Disney+ and netflix recently launched ad-supported options, following Paramount+, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Discovery of Warner Bros.by HBO Max.

Meanwhile, ad-supported free streaming services like Paramount’s Pluto TV and Fox Corporation.’s Tubi, both of which offer news options, also saw an increase in viewership and ad revenue.

Local developments

Losses of pay-TV subscribers threaten lucrative retransmission fees that cable companies like Comcast and Charter communications owners of pay broadcasting stations.

“The loss of pay-TV customers is accelerating and for companies like Gray and Nexstar,” Stephens analyst Nicholas Zangler said, “they are adapting to the world of streaming.” He added: “It’s a double-edged sword when transitioning into the [streaming] television world.

The analyst noted that broadcast station owners have not publicly offered details on how the deals with pay-TV operators like Comcast compare to streaming services carrying broadcast stations, other than “the transactions are not equivalent, so it’s a slight loss.”

But as local news remains a must-have content for consumers, with an increasing audience at major events, broadcasting costs could increase further in the years to come. Companies like Nextstar and Sinclair Broadcasting Groupwhich own 200 and 185 stations respectively, receive billions of revenues each year thanks to these royalties.

“If anything, they want a more fragmented environment. TV and streaming services are crawling on each other for more content that retains viewers. Local news does that,” Zangler said.

Stream stations are also available on internet packages such as YouTube TV and Fubo TV, as well as in some cases on subscription streaming services like Peacock and Paramount+. Some of their content finds its way onto free ad-supported services like Pluto TV or VUit.

Some companies like Sinclair have created their own free streaming services, and many affiliates use their websites and create their own apps to offer newsletters. It has created a disjointed market for local news, although it has provided other sources of revenue for broadcast station owners as consumers move away from the pay-TV package.

VUit’s business model

Instead of paying the same fee, VUit shares ad revenue with broadcast station owners who put their content on the platform.

For this reason, the platform does not feature flagship programming on affiliated local TV channels like NFL games, primetime series, and national news shows. Instead, it airs local news segments, often the digital versions found on the broadcaster’s own websites and streaming option.

VUit’s Bread and Butter Gives Viewers the Opportunity to Watch Local News Stations Out of Market, but with localized in-market advertising for the viewer and original programming featuring typically hyperlocal events not found on linear networks.

“It’s not just local news, it’s all the local events happening in a market on any given day, that we now have the market and the technology to get it out to the public,” said Mike Braun, Chief Digital Officer. at the house of gray tvan early investor in Syncbak and VUit.

There was a 31% year-over-year increase in ads served between June 2021 and June 2022, and revenue sharing among station owners increased 121% for the first half of 2022, according to VUit . Year-to-date, revenue sharing has increased 192%, Perry said.

VUit aims to work with local CBS stations to energize their hyperlocal events on the platform and attract more eyeballs.

“Let’s just send the viewer into our sandbox and have them watch whatever,” Perry said.

A recent Iceman Challenge mountain bike race in Traverse City, Michigan, available only from local station WWTV on VUit’s platform, drew thousands of viewers.

Let’s just put the viewer in our sandbox and have them watch whatever.

In the weeks leading up to the election, VUit saw viewership spikes in political coverage in battleground states, like Pennsylvania and Florida. When Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida in September, VUit saw viewers migrate to local news stations across the state. Like TV stations, VUit reaped the benefits of political advertising for this year’s midterm election campaign.

Perry said VUit’s viewership grew exponentially as he added more broadcast stations and original programming – Gray TV, Cox, Hearst and smaller private broadcast stations are among the lineup – the average viewer logging nearly 30 monthly sessions on the service and sticking around for nearly 30 minutes at a time.

As major media companies like Paramount and NBCUniversal grapple with a deteriorating ad market affecting revenue, Perry said VUit’s ad revenue, while small compared to those giants, has only grown.

Its most-watched station, which Perry declined to disclose, generated $19.30 per viewer last month, while an average VUit viewer brings in $5.28 a month, or 41 cents an hour.

Earlier this week, NBCUniversal said it was approaching $10 per average user on Peacock, which offers both subscription and ad revenue models. Recently, Disney+ said it received $6.10 in average monthly revenue per user in the US, for its subscription-only service at the time.

Admittedly, VUit still only attracts thousands of viewers, as opposed to the millions that go to more mature and larger streaming services like Disney+, or even free, ad-supported services like Pluto TV and Tubi.

Perry noted that the average earnings metric is important to VUit because the platform is “very sticky,” meaning it retains its audience over the long term. Streamers have been struggling with customers, who have the ability to drop subscriptions more easily than when they had pay-TV packages.

The deal with CBS only helps its other local newscasts, Perry said, because audiences from larger markets will come to the platform and explore it. Along with a marketing push in 2023 and trying to add more broadcast stations to the platform, Perry said he’ll be looking to make acquisitions on the tech side that improve VUit’s navigation and discovery.

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.

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