TVN FOCUS ON STREAMING

Sinclair Hopes To Create OTT Stir With Stirr

The group’s planned package of ad-supported channels, including local news and programming, will be available via the Roku and Amazon Fire OTT TV platforms, via apps for Apple and Android smartphones and on the Web.

Aware of the growing interest in TV viewing on smart TVs and smartphones, Sinclair Broadcast Group later this month is launching a collection of streaming channels across its footprint, including local ones in markets where it has news-producing TV stations.

Stirr, as the package of ad-supported channels will be called, will be available via the Roku and Amazon Fire OTT TV platforms, via apps for Apple and Android smartphones and on the Web at www.stirr.com.

The collection will comprise national channels from Sinclair and third parties as well as Sinclair-produced local ones.

Adam Ware

“We’re in 89 markets. There will be 78 to 80 that will have this customized local experience,” says Adam Ware, general manger of the nascent service. If a viewer is in a Sinclair market without a local channel, the service will recommend the one from WJLA Washington so they can get news from the nation’s capital, he says.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Stirr pushes Sinclair into the ranks of OTT leaders, says Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates. “Sinclair and Tegna are much farther ahead, and much more aggressive than Nexstar on OTT. They know that’s where the future is and they’re placing a lot more money into that opportunity, without a lot of money being there right now.”

Tegna’s principal OTT effort is Premion, which sells OTT ad availabilities on third-party streaming services, similar to Sinclair’s CompulseOTT service.

Ware isn’t yet saying how many channels will be available at launch, but he identified a few of them — Cheddar, a business channel; the sci-fi channel Dust; and two channels filled with user-generated videos from Jukin Media: FailArmy, which compiles people failing badly and sometimes dangerously at various stunts and Pet Collective, which showcases videos of animals.

Primarily, out of the gate, [the lineup will include] channels that are direct-to-digital, that have been locked out of the pay TV business. “We’re seeing more and more of that happening,” Ware says.

Stirr is cutting barter deals with the third-part channels, selling all the ad availabilities and then splitting the revenue with programmers.

“You’ll [also] see channels we own, like Comet and Charge,” says Ware. Comet is sci-fi focused, and Charge! is operated by MGM and features programs from the studio’s library.

The local channels will be primarily news, but also sports and entertainment, Ware says. “It sort of goes back to what local broadcasters used to do — a lot of local programming. Where did Donahue come from? Where did Oprah come from? Where did Regis come from? Or Bozo the Clown? They were all developed by local TV stations.”

The amount of daily such programming will depend on the production capabilities of the local stations. “On the high end — which would be more the case — it would be close to five hours,” says Ware. On the low end, he says, it might just be an hour and a half.

According to Ware, the stations will be part of the Stirr branding. In Seattle, for example, the overall service will be called Stirr Seattle — Powered by KOMO. The local channel will be dubbed Stirr Channel 1.

Sinclair’s OTT initiative speaks to larger trends, as viewers gravitate to streaming services and advertisers seek to follow viewers into the OTT space.

“The ease of getting into a streaming environment today, versus three to five years ago, is dramatically improved,” says Brian Hunt, head of OTT and connected TV ad sales at Sinclair, speaking at a BIA Advisory Services webinar in December 2018. “The statistics I’ve seen show that 30% of the U.S. will not have a traditional cable or satellite service by [2019].

Stirr gets a thumbs up from Pat LaPlatney, the digitally savvy co-CEO of Gray Television, newly merged with Raycom Media where he was CEO. “I think that Sinclair is doing a lot of interesting things, and I would include Stirr in that group. I believe that there is a lot of upside for the local broadcast industry in OTT.”

Part of that upside involves advertising, which is the sole revenue stream for Stirr. “On the national level, big agencies are either creating a new line for OTT only, or they’re taking taking 10%-15% of their broadcast spend and moving it over to OTT,” says Catherine Badalamente, VP of digital media at Graham Media Group.

That’s one reason why Graham’s station in San Antonio, Texas, is working on a OTT service that combines syndicated and locally produced content.

Garrett Winkler, director, connected television lead at the GroupM agency, Modi Media, explained the agency interest: “OTT serves as a complement for linear TV as ratings decline, most significantly across younger demos. Budgets dedicated to OTT vary by client, but we have seen up to 10% of video budgets running on OTT,” he says.

Rick Ducey, managing director of BIA Advisory Services, sees other reasons why Stirr makes sense: “Sinclair is trying to create a national platform for advertising and incremental revenue growth.

“National has been a source of softness for local TV. What we’ve learned from the MVPD experience, including the satellite side — and even the early OTT packages — is you have to have local stations in the program mix, or people just won’t go for it.

“If you can scale up to 70% reach, then you can play in the national TV marketplace,” Ducey adds. Stirr is available to anyone, no matter their market. BIA’s database puts Sinclair’s current broadcast market coverage at about 40%.

Rob Malcolm, SVP of sales, ad tech, at Imagine Communications, notes that Stirr stands out from other TV station group OTT initiatives.

Among its distinctions: “it offers local content on a national basis. So, if you are from one city and living or visiting another city, you can get the news/sports you want,” he says.

“It’s also a stand-alone. Other broadcasters are working with others to pool their content,” Malcolm adds. By contrast, he says, several broadcasters licensed their content on the Haystack TV, an OTT news service.


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