Broadcasting company Sinclair recently sold its free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) service STIRR to Thinking Media, a startup offering cloud-based streaming solutions for fast and over-the-top (OTT) services. The new owners have ambitious plans for the streamer, including international expansion, tripling its on-demand content library and becoming an AI-native streamer with advanced search capabilities.
CordCuttersNews broke the news of the deal, which was officially finalized two weeks ago. The acquisition comes as fast-paced viewership grows among consumers looking to save money as more premium streamers raise their subscription prices. According to Samba TV, 1 in 3 US consumers will subscribe to FAST services by 2023.
When Sinclair launched STIRR in 2019, the service included more than 100 free, ad-supported live TV channels and more than 5,000 hours of TV shows and movies. As of this writing, the live channels have been removed from the streaming platform, but there is still content on demand.
STIRR is going to triple its on-demand content in the next few months, Thinking Media founders Todd Carter (CEO) and Scott Schlichter (President) told TechCrunch.
“We haven't brought in the local stations that Sinclair has taken from their station group for a variety of reasons,” said Schlichter, founder of digital talent and brand agency Dogma Studios. Trying to do. From a linear perspective, you're going to see content that's very familiar to what's been there before.
The company is currently renegotiating several previous content licensing agreements, so by the end of March, viewers should start seeing many titles returning to STIRR, as well as brand new content.
STIRR is adding more niche categories to target a wider audience. By June, STIRR will add categories such as travel and exploration, fitness and wellness, cooking, automotive, technology and innovation, fashion, home improvement and DIY, education, gaming, and news and opinion. STIRR's catalog is currently relatively bare, with only a few genres including adventure, comedy, documentaries, drama, horror, mystery, sports and children's content.
“If you think about the TV market today, it's one-size-fits-all and they're targeting a small number of very large, general audiences. We're interested in a very large number of small niche intent-based audiences,” says Carter, who previously co-founded technology and media firm SEEEN.
Thinking Media is also working to acquire international rights to support its growth plans. In the first and second quarters of 2024, STIRR is set to expand to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. It will also launch Spanish-language content and programming in LATAM territories.
STIRR is currently available worldwide on the web, Apple TV, iOS and Android devices. “It will soon be available for other smart TV platforms such as Tizen, Amazon Fire and Roku once the transfer of those App Store accounts from Sinclair Broadcast Group to Thinking Media is complete,” the company said.
“(STIRR has) 8.5 to 10 million installs across all major platforms. We want to embrace that and we want you to realize that it's still in-house and we're going to give you the content you want and we're going to add to it and bring new features that we think you'll enjoy. Schlichter added.
In addition to content, Thinking Media also plans to integrate its proprietary features into the platform, starting with “Key Video Moments” to signal second-screen behavior by turning mobile phones into a companion device. Specifically, bringing search engine results to STIRR.
“We are talking about synchronizing; Your mobile phone and your television being in sync while you're watching,” says Schlichter, using popular competition show “Hell's Kitchen” as an example. By bringing a web user experience to STIRR, viewers can simultaneously search for a recipe while watching their favorite chef.
“If you're a fan of a show and you want to somehow get more involved with that show, there's no way to do that on any existing platform… You go to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Discord or Reddit, but not (a streaming service). This idea comes down to TV web integration and user journeys,” Carter said.
“Key video moments” are also partly a social feature, Carter added. Viewers can share their findings on social media and messaging platforms.
STIRR's UI is simpler than its faster competitors, thus giving new life to the service by introducing innovative features.
“There's this incredible opportunity to think of STIRR as a lab for TV web innovation… to build on what Sinclair Broadcast Group has created and take it to the next level,” added Carter.
Thinking Media has already made other technical improvements to the STIRR platform, including replacing its video player with a new “interactive” one that offers HLS (HTTP live streaming) and ultra-low latency transmission, which Carter explained is prime for a “synchronized audience.” There's also WebRTC support, which leads us to believe that STIRR will eventually have a live chat function.
In addition, the company has changed the entire back end, which is now based on the Content Data Graph, which combines data from various sources, similar to Google's Knowledge Graph.