For a six-year-old company—virtually a granddaddy among ad-supported streaming services—Tubi remains very much in transition after its $440 million purchase by Fox this spring.
Founded as a free service in 2014 by two ad-tech executives, Farhad Massoudi (who remains CEO) and Thomas Ahn Hicks, Tubi has grown to 25 million monthly users. Executives prefer to use a different metric, Total Viewing Time. But regardless, even that out-of-date user number (it dates to before the pandemic) marks Tubi as the most popular AVOD player in a suddenly crowded space.
Fox announced the Tubi acquisition in March, just as the lockdown hit the U.S., and closed the deal on the same April day that Comcast acquired Vudu from Walmart. Fittingly, Fox paid for Tubi with cash from the sale of its 5% stake In Hulu, part of the $71.3 billion sale of many Fox assets to Disney in 2019.
Fox executives called the Tubi deal a strategic move to “broaden and enhance direct-to-consumer digital reach and engagement.” Indeed, it gave the company a bigger foothold in the streaming future than its only other streaming site, subscription site Fox Nation. (Parks Associates estimates the Fox News Channel fan service has 200,000 to 300,000 subscribers.)
Before the deal closed, Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said Tubi brought a big, somewhat younger user base that watches a lot of TV, more than 160 million hours per month. Since then, Total View Time jumped in April by 25%, to 200 million hours.
The heavy viewing presumably has continued, but otherwise integration into Fox has been modest, so far.
Three of Fox’s biggest unscripted series have Tubi deals: The Masked Singer, Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back, and, coming this fall, Lego Master. Tubi gets Masked Singer episodes less than two weeks after they play on Fox.
Overall, Tubi offers 20,000 films and TV series, totaling 70,000 hours of programming, largely from the libraries of NBCUniversal, MGM, Paramount, Lionsgate, Sony, Fuinmation, Viz Media among others. Whether all that content will be available in the future, as NBCU, ViacomCBS and others change their licensing strategies, is yet another question.
Massoudi and Chief Creative Officer Adam Lewinson have steadily increased content-acquisition budgets, to $100 million a year, but also have steadily avoided buying original programming as a risky use of capital. The closest the company has come to original programming is a deal, announced at Sundance in February, for an exclusive run of Robert Rodriguez sci-fi thriller Red 11.
The array of other “Most Popular” movies is overwhelmingly the sort of action, suspense and thrillers you might see at American Film Market or the back corners of Cannes. “Featured” programming includes durable dating competition The Bachelorette, Will Smith-starring biopic Ali, WWII action film Fury with Brad Pitt, and the self-describing Snakes on a Plane. The horror/comedy Scary Movie has been a big hit, and so too has been Marlon Wayans’ parody of 50 Shades of Gray, 50 Shades of Black.
Tubi likes to say it “super-serves underserved audiences,” including a huge collection of “Black Cinema” titles with their own highlighted section, LGBTQ+ content, as well as deep wells of horror, anime and unscripted content. The company also launched a separate, dedicated hub for children’s programming, called Tubi Kids, that’s designed to meet COPA protections for marketing to young viewers.
And just to make clear what Tubi isn’t, it features a section pointedly titled “Not On Netflix,” featuring projects such as horror classic Evil Dead, and Kevin Costner as an NFL general manager in Draft Day.
On the advertising side, Tubi’s ad sales team remains separate, though it’s now what Chief Revenue Officer Mark Rotblat calls “one of the pillars in the Fox portfolio.”
Rotblat promised more sponsorship and custom packages for advertisers trying to reach an audience across Tubi and beyond. He said Tubi inventory would be easy to buy directly through the company’s own platform, including with programmatic and programmatic guaranteed buys.
Ad loads remain far lighter than broadcast or cable, at 4 to 6 minutes per hour, including big national brands such as shift.com, Allstate, Postmates, and of course, Fox network cross promotions.
Tubi also is touting the imminent arrival of what it calls Advanced Frequency Measurement, proprietary technology to perform frequency capping and ensure the same viewer doesn’t keep seeing the same ads over and over. That solution to a particular consumer gripe is “coming.”
Tubi has been slowly expanding internationally, signing deals earlier this year with TV maker Hi-Sense and big Mexican media company TV Azteca to enter into Mexico with co-promotions, unboxing and other marketing. Tubi provides a range of Spanish-language dubbed or native programming, including Colombian televnovelas, that are finding a ready audience.
So much else remains in transit, though. A rollout in the United Kingdom, announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, is still coming, for instance.
Murdoch suggested back before the deal closed that Fox would expand Tubi by leveraging its own sports and news programming, both national and local. Adding those live staples of broadcast and cable to a streaming service has become a bit of a trend of a sudden, as a way to differentiate from market king Netflix.
NBCUniversal’s Peacock launched last week with a 24/7 channel built around its powerhouse Today show news and lifestyle programming, and live sports such as English Premiere League soccer.
Fox still has plenty of assets, including a big broadcast network, the most popular 24-hour news channel, and sports and business channels. But both broadcast and cable TV are facing near-existential challenges in the shift to streaming.
What’s left at Fox nonetheless has the potential to be a nimble company reacting quickly to a fast-changing media landscape, with both the need and opportunity to recreate itself. Tubi’s presence across more than two-dozen online platforms, including pretty much all the big ones, could be crucial in helping the Murdoch clan refit Fox for the future.
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