Sinclair Broadcast Group is looking to expand its free, ad-supported website and app that lets viewers check in with local TV newscasts from 275 stations across the country, to see how wildfires are being tackled in Oregon, if rains have let up in Western Massachusetts or how new voting-access laws are being covered in Texas.
NewsON has been around since 2015, originally owned by several station groups that contributed broadcast feeds to the service but, since 2017, wholly owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which had joined the consortium in 2016.
Sinclair this month took note of several upgrades to the service, including a new (since February) web-based version of the service on NewsON.us and better search and display functions on the over-the-top channel, which is available on Roku devices, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and iOS and Android mobile devices.
Sinclair officials said the service has been growing in terms of viewing and revenue. Without giving out specific numbers, Sinclair said for the first six months of this year, NewsON’s viewing minutes are running over 30% ahead of where they were in the six months pre-COVID (March 2020), average sessions per user (per month) are up over 10% in that span and revenue run rates are up over 50%. Sinclair offers advertisers options to geo-locate their spots or have them retransmitted as they air on the stations.
Some other figures: NewsON has news content from more than 275 stations owned by 15 station groups, with the biggest absence from the affiliates being Nexstar, which was in the consortium but left after Sinclair took it over. (ABC owned and operated stations also left, in 2020.) Live and on-demand local newscasts on NewsON come from more than 165 local markets covering more than 75% of the U.S. population, according to Sinclair.
Upgrades to the viewer experience put in place since this spring reported by Sinclair include:
--Improved discovery of breaking news, so that when a local story gaining national attention occurs, a dynamic breaking news banner at the top of the screen alerts viewers to stations with coverage of the event.
--Additional market imagery, with each market represented in the app now identified with a featured image for the designated market area.
--Simplified access to stations marked as favorites (see screenshot), allowing viewers to easily access news outside of their own market.
Scott Ehrlich, senior VP of growth networks and content at Sinclair, said “the idea of having the broadcast news industry working together to deliver to consumers a national offering of local broadcast news is something we’ve always thought was important. And as OTT has developed over the last few years and as it’s gotten more important to have a local presence as part of an OTT strategy, NewsON has really kind of come into its own.”
News viewing clearly grew in the last couple of years with interest in the presidential election, with protests over the George Floyd murder and with the COVID pandemic. “It put particular focus on local broadcast news, because local broadcast news was the feet on the street telling those stories, the stories in Seattle, the stories in Portland, the stories across the country,” Ehrlich said. “And as a result the business has continued to grow and we’re investing more and we’re expanding in all those kinds of things” that were outlined in Sinclair’s news release about the NewsON upgrades.
Like other OTT services, NewsON wants to keep adding platforms to keep growing and building on its gains, Ehrlich said, with talks ongoing with platform providers and with other station groups.
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