Group owners include Hearst, Cox, Citadel, Morris
VUit, the year-old streaming service featuring local TV content, said it recently signed 71 additional stations to the platform.
Run by tech company Syncbak and backed by Gray Television, VUit will now have stations representing 174 of the 210 local markets. Some of the new stations are in major markets including Boston, Baltimore, Orlando, Sacramento and Pittsburgh.
Group owners adding their stations to VUIt include Hearst Television, Cox Media Group, Citadel Communications, Morris Network and News Press & Gazette.
“We’re thrilled so many groups are jumping on board with VUit,” Jack Perry CEO of Syncbak, told Broadcasting+Cable.
The growth of VUit comes as more stations see streaming as an opportunity to distribute their content nationally. In addition to VUit, local-to-national streaming platforms include Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Stirr and NewsOn platforms, Allen Media Group’s Local Now, Hearst’s Very Local Amazon Fire’s local news on demand and Haystack News.
“Broadcasters are recognizing they have to get their programming out there,” Perry said.
With several platforms offering local station content, “there’s going to be a battle right now,” he said, but eventually “you’re going to start to see some of these lesser products kind of fade away.”
Syncbak has an advantage in the market in that it has its own streaming platform, lowering its costs, according to Perry. Eventually the market will winnow down to one or two players. “We know we’re going to be around,” he said.
In many cases, Syncbak also handles the streaming for stations’ news apps and websites when those stations join VUit. “In one fell swoop, they can significantly reduce their streaming costs,” Perry said.
Perry said VUit has been growing in terms of viewer engagement as well as growing the number of stations contributing.
“It’s exceeding our expectations in terms of its stickiness,” Perry said. The average VUit user comes back to the platform eight times a month spending more than 20 minutes each time, for an average of about 8 hours a month.
He declined to say exactly how many users VUit was attracting, but said it was between 250,000 and half a million. ”It’s not in the millions yet, but we’re pleased with it,” he said.
Ad revenue has been growing, particularly local market advertising where out-of-market content is being viewed. Syncbak’s ad technology is delivering billions of ads annually, Perry said.
“Stations are just now realizing they have the ability to sell local advertising in this OTT space,” he said. VUit shares the revenue it generates on the site, but local stations also have opportunities to sell commercials.
Perry said VUit has been profitable since it was two months old. The combination of a growing fill rate, increasing ad prices and low streaming costs is VUit’s formula for financial success, he said.
“VUit has enabled our local stations to reach viewers with not only live news and programming relevant to them, but locally-produced on-demand content that viewers from across the country tune into,” said Pat LaPlatney, co-CEO & president at Gray Television, an investor in Syncbak which recently added eight more stations to VUit. “We want every local station to be streaming on VUit. Viewers download the app to watch their local channel, and stick around to watch programming from local stations all across the country.”
In addition to stations owned by large groups, VUit lets locally owned stations like WFMJ-TV in Youngstown, Ohio, which is still owned by the family that founded the station in 1953.
“We’re not a big group so we don’t have that direct path to a national over-the-top platform,” WFMJ general manager Jack Grdik told B+C. “After experimenting with VUit, we saw it was functional and easy to uses. It just made sense.”
Grdik said Youngstown had a large group of snowbirds who head down to the Sarasota and Tampa areas of Florida for the winter, and VUit would help keep them connected to the station and news back home. The station also plans to set up a second channel on VUit that would carry high school sports highlights and, as the 2022 election approaches, political news.
“The litmus test will be seeing in a year from now if the channel is growing and how much revenue we’re seeing,” he said. “I think it takes time to build an audience, so we’re going to be patient with this.”
Syncbak’s Perry said using VUit helps stations at a time when they’re struggling to shift from simply broadcasting to providing multi-platform content. “We think when you put our one platform in, we eliminate so much of the complexity in streaming,” he said.
Syncbak is now looking to improve VUit by making it easier for users to find the news they are looking for from the markets they’re interested in.
“The big growth area is personalization,” Perry said. VUit is trying to get viewers to sign-in, making it easier for their preferences to be tracked. “When they fire up VU it, what they’ll see is their own personal newscast from every station that would be of interest to them,” he said. ”The viewer will feel like it’s her own custom newscast.”
That will also be good for the stations, enabling them to monetize individual news stores better, Perry said.
Among the new stations on VUit are all six stations owned by Morris Network, Bahakel Communication’s six stations, and two stations from Marks Radio Group.
Hearst’s WCVB-TV, the first VUit station in Boston, Citadel Communications’ 24-hour Suncoast News Network, WSNN, is streaming news from Tampa on VUit.
Cox Media Group now has 33 stations in 20 markets participating in VUit as the result of a deal announced in September.
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