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Protocol Next Up
Defining the future of tech and entertainment with Janko Roettgers.

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Tubi

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week's edition is about Vevo giving smart TVs another try and Tubi revealing some of the numbers behind its business.

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The Big Story

Why Vevo is betting on smart TVs

The team at Vevo is keeping busy: Just a few years after the music video platform significantly scaled back its ambitions, it is back in expansion mode, launching apps and channels on a variety of smart TV platforms.

  • In the fall, it launched Redbox's "Free Live TV" service. Two months later, Vevo went live on Vizio smart TVs. And earlier this month, Vevo unveiled an app for Comcast's X1 set-top boxes and Flex streaming boxes.

The smart TV push is a response to changing consumer behavior, Kevin McGurn, Vevo's president of sales and distribution, told me this week.

  • Desktop viewership was falling, mobile views kept growing as you'd expect, but McGurn said Vevo's smart TV growth was off the charts: Globally, TV views grew 30% year-over-year in 2020. In the U.S., TV viewing even grew by 58%.
  • "It was an opportunity that presented itself," McGurn said. "We just got lucky with the timing."

This is just the latest shift for Vevo, which, in 2013, primarily focused on distributing music videos on YouTube. "The bet on YouTube was a really good one," McGurn told me. "It still is."

  • Under the leadership of its former CEO Erik Huggers, Vevo tried to become less dependent on YouTube. The company launched an ambitious set of apps and services across mobile, the web and TVs, and Huggers even played with the idea of a subscription service.
  • Vevo abandoned most of those efforts after Huggers' departure, shutting down its website and most of its apps with the exception of Apple TV and Roku.
  • Those two apps, as well as Vevo's distribution via YouTube's TV apps, saw massive growth over the past few years, and even more so during COVID, with McGurn telling me that the company is seeing north of 30% of its viewing happening on TV screens in some markets.

Now, Vevo wants to keep expanding on smart TVs, while also ramping up its international expansion and efforts to sell TV audiences to advertisers.

  • There's only one thing Vevo isn't looking to do any time soon: build a mobile app. McGurn said that the company is happy leaving that piece of the distribution puzzle to YouTube, allowing it to focus on TV innovation.

One example of what comes next: Vevo began embracing the idea of linear channels when it teamed up with Pluto TV in 2019. Since then, the company has doubled the number of these programmed channels, and brought them to other platforms as well, with encouraging results: Vevo clocked more than 10 million daily views on Pluto and Samsung TV Plus in 2020.

  • These channels, as well as personalization and recommendations that make it possible to start with one video and then let algorithms take over, have led to viewing times of over one hour on connected TVs. "It really starts to look and feel a lot like a television network," McGurn said.

Overheard

"We believe we no longer have a need to raise external financing for our day-to-day operations." —Netflix in its Q4 letter to investors, repudiating pundits who at one point called the company Debtflix for its aggressive borrowing habits.

"I admit now that I was wrong about Netflix. I thought they would have to borrow money for a long time." —The New York Times' Shira Ovide, outing herself as one of those pundits.

Join us next week

From commerce to content and from Big Tech to Big Government, leading technology analyst Benedict Evans has a knack for seeing the future. At this event, he'll debut and discuss his 2021 trends and predictions for a tech industry — and a world — in the middle of huge change. Join us for this event on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 11 a.m. ET.

RSVP today.

Watch Out

Why you need to pay attention to ad-supported video

Ad-supported streaming service Tubi, which was acquired by Fox in early 2020, just released a massive report about its performance and the composition of its audience. And honestly, it's a must-read for anyone still doubting the importance of ad-supported streaming services.

Tubi saw a big usage upswing in 2020. Here's some data included in the report:

  • The service ended the year with 33 million monthly active users, who collectively streamed 2.5 billion hours of video in 2020.
  • Streaming hours grew by 1.9x compared to 2019 totals. Viewership numbers grew by 58% over the same time frame
  • Four out of five users watch Tubi on their TV.

Tubi also shared some interesting demographic data about its audience:

  • 48% of Tubi's users don't subscribe to cable. Among 18- to 34-year-olds, that rises to 57%.
  • Viewers use Tubi to supplement subscription video: 62% of users subscribe to Netflix and 47% pay for Amazon Prime Video.
  • Taken together, these two trends affect advertisers: 80% of Tubi's audience can't be reached via the top 25 TV networks, and 64% can't be reached across other Fox Entertainment properties.

There's some self-interest here, of course: Tubi is obviously putting out those numbers to attract more advertisers to its own service. But I'd argue that some of the bigger trends apply to the entire ecosystem.

  • As consumers cut the cord, they're increasingly adopting a mix of both subscription services and free, ad-supported streaming, forcing advertisers to shift their budgets as well. The beneficiaries are companies like Tubi and Pluto, but also smart TV platforms like Roku and Samsung that run their own ad-supported video services.

A few years ago, the catalogs of these ad-supported video services still looked like the DVD bargain bin at Target. Now, they're more and more resembling broadcast TV and basic cable — maybe not as entertaining as your favorite HBO show, but good enough to entertain millions of people.

Fast Forward

Apple may launch a podcast subscription plan. Long a leader in free podcast aggregation, Apple is reportedly now considering a paid tier.

On Protocol: Amazon now lets companies white-label Alexa. Fiat Chrysler is among the first customers to use a voice assistant with custom wake words.

Internet TV bundles are getting bigger and more expensive. After striking a distribution deal with ViacomCBS, Hulu just added 14 networks. Remember skinny bundles?

Also on Protocol: After raising millions for Democrats, Hovercast is looking for its next act. The live streaming platform was used for one of the inaugural balls this week.

Oculus Quest is getting multi-user accounts, as Facebook takes a big step towards making the headset more of a family entertainment device.

The Wave XR is giving up on VR. The music startup will instead focus on traditional livestreaming of music events.

Cinedigm bought Fandor. The company now plans to add Fandor to its tech platform and launch ad-supported channels with Fandor content.

Naver acquired Wattpad for $600 million. The storytelling platform had raised around $118 million.

Bigscreen added free movies to its VR cinema with help from Pluto. Consumers still have to pay for 3D content.

Auf Wiedersehen

What a week! A historic inauguration, staged with unprecedented security measures and held in the middle of a devastating pandemic. Oh wait, I forgot, this part is supposed to be reserved for levity. I do have to say, all of the emotional stuff aside, it did feel great to see some sort of normalcy and even silliness return to the internet Wednesday. Tweets that are for once not about an attempted insurrection, but Bernie's mittens. An easter egg buried in the code of the new White House website. Bernie on Bart. The Washington Post not recognizing Cesar Chavez. Bernie selling merch for the opening act. President Biden outlawing Zoom calls that could have been emails. Lo-fi Bernie. And, my personal favorite: The Los Angeles Public Library trying its hand at making memes. Darn it, now I got something in my eye again…

Thanks for reading — see you next week.

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