Local TV Stations Team Up to Launch Streaming Service

The following is an excerpt from Wall Street Journal
September 1, 2020

VUit, an ad-supported platform, offers access to over 200 local channels

VUit lets people stream local TV stations such as Gray Television’s KTUU in Anchorage, Alaska, which covered the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 2020.

By Lillian Rizzo

Sept. 1, 2020 8:00 am ET

A new streaming service featuring more than 200 TV stations launched Tuesday, part of an effort by local-TV groups to make their content more broadly available and generate additional advertising revenue.

VUit, pronounced “View It,” lets people stream all of Gray Television Inc.’s GTN -3.36% TV stations in 93 markets and some of Meredith Corp. MDP -2.64% ’s 17 stations, as well as dozens of closely held stations. The service, which was created by streaming-technology company Syncbak Inc., will be ad-supported and free of charge to viewers.

Local TV stations have seen their viewership rise during the pandemic, but the surge was accompanied by a cutback in advertising spending. Political advertising is expected to make up for some of those losses this year.

Local broadcasters have also suffered from the continuing shift from traditional pay-TV services to streaming platforms—a phenomenon known as cord-cutting—and have been slow to find their footing in the streaming world, industry analysts have said.

Syncbak has been testing the service for months, Chief Executive Jack Perry said. One of the earliest tests happened in February, when Syncbak helped Heritage Broadcasting, a small Michigan-based broadcast station owner, live-stream more than 10 hours of a snowmobile race—which drew viewers from 107 markets across the U.S. and globally.

Traverse City, Mich.-based WWTV’s morning newscast ‘Michigan This Morning,’ as seen on VUit. PHOTO: HERITAGE BROADCASTING

People who came across the service during the testing came back to it 17 times a month on average, Mr. Perry said.

“We’re aiming to be the Netflix of live, local and free,” he said.

Syncbak, which is partly backed by Gray, won’t pay local TV stations for their content, but the stations will receive most of the advertising revenue generated by the service, the company said.

Beyond Gray and Meredith, VUit’s launch partners include Morgan Murphy Media and Northwest Broadcasting, which was recently acquired by Apollo Global Management Inc.

Kevin Latek, an executive vice president at Gray, described VUit as “a way to increase our audience and revenue. It seems like a win-win.”

Other local TV station owners have worked to improve their streaming game in recent years.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., the owner of 191 television stations across the U.S., last year launched STIRR, an advertising-supported streaming service that features its own local content as well as general entertainment channels.

Many of Nexstar Media Group Inc.’s broadcast stations are available for streaming over so-called skinny bundle services such as Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube TV and Disney Corp. ’s Hulu + Live TV. Nexstar owns 196 stations in 114 U.S. markets.

VUit will use Syncbak’s proprietary advertising platform, allowing local advertisers to reach audiences beyond specific stations. It will also serve as an outlet for local businesses to have a heavier impact on digital advertising, which opens up a new source of revenue.

Syncbak, which started in 2009, takes over-the-air broadcast segments and delivers them on streaming services including ViacomCBS Inc.’s CBS All Access, Hulu, and fuboTV, among others.

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