The online TV revolution has largely passed by local TV stations. For 200 stations, the new online TV service VUit is their chance to establish a real digital presence. Will it help them reconnect and win the disaffected young viewer?
VUit provides a home for local TV broadcasters online
The launch of VUit from Syncbak marks an important, and much overdue, move by local broadcasters to bring their services into the online TV world. Two hundred stations from Gray Television, Meredith Corporation, Cowles Media Company, Heritage Broadcasting Group, and Morgan Murphy Media are looking to recapture ad revenue lost as their audience has migrated online. VUit is delivering the 200 stations live and on-demand to a national audience on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, and Fire TV devices.
Local stations have also committed to creating at least 12 exclusive events for the VUit platform each year. As well, VUit will leverage the local TV station content to create themed channels. For example, Politics Uncut is a political channel built using Syncbak’s auto-build technology, which constructs the channel from across all the participating local stations.
Local stations will have a national audience
To some extent, the stations participating in VUit will not be geoblocked. In other words, anyone anywhere in the country can tune into a local participating station. Syncbak founder Jack Perry sees the approach as the perfect complement to the online binge culture:
“With VUit, we are turning the traditional network concept on its head. Broadcast networks are built top-down with the national feed as the core lens to the world. Meanwhile, VUit is grassroots up, enabling viewers to see what is happening in every community — and everyone has connections to other towns and cities. The way we see it, VUit is the perfect complement to the binge culture. After you binge, you come to VUit to enjoy the best of local news, sports, and culture from anywhere you want.”
However, some events come with a license that will require geoblocking and blackout restrictions. For example, NFL games broadcast on local channels have a restricted area of availability. What is more, if the games are not sold out, the station may be required to blackout the game on the channel. Presumably, the channels participating in VUit must follow the same restrictions.
VUit pays no license fees, drives ad revenue
Local stations receive license payments from pay TV systems that carry their channels. However, Syncbak will not pay the stations any fees for inclusion in the service. As well, the company will hand over much of the advertising revenue generated by viewership of live and on-demand content through the service.
The new national footprint for the local channels opens additional revenue opportunities for the local stations. Syncbak will use its dynamic ad insertion technology to give local advertisers reach outside of their local area.
Can VUit reengage the young?
Whether the approach will be enough to reengage young viewers is unclear. Nielsen makes plain that the interest of 18-to-34-year-olds in live TV is collapsing. Over the last year, viewing time has fallen by 16%, and over the last two years by 28%. The average 18-34 now watches one hour and 26 minutes of live TV per day, 13 minutes less than they stream on a connected TV.
The young’s disaffection with live TV could be because they do not want to pay the high price for traditional pay TV. If so, VUit could do well, allowing them to watch local channels without having to pay. As well, making much of the content available on-demand could make it more appealing to the young, who are used to watching on their schedules.
The release of VUit could be good timing with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the U.S. election. There is a wide mistrust of social media as a source of news. A Dynata Coronavirus Media Usage Study showed that more young people turned to local TV (79%) for pandemic news than to social media (63%) and cable TV (32%). As well, 81% of young adults say they trust local broadcast TV news.
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