Fall TV 2020: Panel Addresses the Medium Formerly Known as 'Television'

Sinclair Broadcast Group's Adam Ware

Sinclair Broadcast Group's Adam Ware (Image credit: Sinclair Broadcast Group)

Launched in January 2019, STIRR, owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, operates under the notion that broadcasters play a key role in delivering content and services to consumers in enabling advertisers to have direct relationships. Unlike other OTT offerings, which are national brands and available everywhere, a primary focus at STIRR is on local programming -- news, sports and lifestyle in particular. 

“There are genres of programming that are all local that have never been exploited,” said Adam Ware, VP and general manager, National Networks and Platforms at Sinclair Broadcast Group. “Viewers, from cord-cutters to cord-nevers to people that still have cable, tend to watch primary streamers like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu for certain shows. But the disconnect is the absence of local programming and all the things that would drive local interest.” 

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STIRR is available on platforms including Roku, Fire TV, tvOS, iOS, Android and the web. An offshoot channel called STIRR CITY streams a 24/7 program line-up based on where the viewer lives. And, effective via STIRR this fall, will be the streaming availability of syndicated mainstay entries like Judge Judy, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.

We spoke to Adam Ware about the merits of the traditional TV platform and how COVID-19 has permanently impacted our business ahead of the Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 Streaming TV Summit, part of Future's Fall TV 2020.

Q. What are you looking forward to most out of this conversation? Where are you expecting the conversation to go, and what would you hope audiences will glean from it? 

Adam Ware: From where we are targeted, traditional TV is in the best position to take advantage of streaming opportunities. The first thing people forget when they think about streaming is that this is TV. When they think about streaming, mobile and desktop come to mind, and that might be the case for certain television viewing. That was definitely the case for streaming to begin with, but for the last five or so years streaming has become over-the-top. And over-the-top is a lean back experience. That is the space that has gotten the most traction, which was supersized particularly with COVID-19 with everybody at home. 

Q. How has COVID-19 impacted your business model?

A.W.: The pandemic accelerated two elements of our business model. The first was expanding out to more local programming, whether it is more STIRR CITY markets with local news or actually more channels (like 20/20 Live or COVID-19 News). The second was how it caused our usage to catapult two years ahead of where we expected it to be. That said, we are in year four of our business plan instead of year two.

Q. Do you think the pandemic has permanently impacted the media business?

A.W.: There have been four instances, fundamental moments and events that happened, that I can remember a shift in the media business where it never has gone back to what it was before. COVID is now one of them. 

The first was the writer’s strike of 1988, which delayed the season and actually benefited a then new network like Fox because people had not really seen a show like Married with Children.  Their repeats were a hot commodity and all of a sudden there was a fourth network. That changed the landscape forever.

The second one was 9/11, which was a similar situation where the shows that were going to premiere in September were delayed. Once people became overwhelmed by all the news coverage, they began to sample the cable networks that were now doing original shows. Cable networks like FX, USA and TNT became a place you would go to as an alternative.

The third was the next writer’s strike, which caused a shift to reality television and more of an emphasis on the news divisions care of their newsmagazines. And the fourth is now COVID, where you have all these people at home watching television. The pandemic has had an impact on viewing, which basically supercharged the alternative platforms.  

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Q. The prediction by many that the traditional linear broadcast model will become extinct continues. What do you link the future holds for the Big 4 broadcasters?

A.W.: People have been talking about the “death” of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox for years. But those companies are even more important to the overall ecosystem than ever before, which really started when Disney bought Fox. All of a sudden you had a rush to have a broadcast network at the front, or the equivalent of a broadcast network (meaning a high reach cable network). Then you had big giant studios, direct-to-consumer businesses, strong network brands, etc. I do not see broadcasters becoming less relevant in that world.

Broadcast, additionally, is where people still watch the majority of their television. No matter how they are getting it, whether they are watching from their cable network or cable system or satellite or over-the-air, they are watching broadcast TV. In fact, when you see someone like Netflix or YouTube TV or Prime Video, whoever, advertising on television to get subscribers, they are advertising on a broadcast network. In other words, they are “fishing where the fish are.”

Q. How are you transforming the medium formerly known as “television”?

A.W.: I think the first way is really putting “muscle” back in local TV. When broadcast TV first started, there was a lot of locally produced programming and many of those shows ended up becoming nationally syndicated shows. Over time, they got away from that as groups started consolidating and people started looking at national solutions. What STIRR is doing is discovering those roots again by bringing a tremendous amount of programming that is produced locally back to television viewers.

Secondly, no one really looks at local broadcasters as being innovators in the streaming business and that is a role we are playing and will continue to do so.

For more about Fall TV 2020 -- with the virtual Advanced Advertising Summit, Hispanic Television Summit, Streaming TV Summit and Audience Measurement Summit coming Sept. 8 to Oct. 2 -- visit falltvevents.com.