FuboTV, one of the players duking it out in the competitive internet pay-TV arena, is dropping into the free streaming-video market with a network it wants to distribute as widely as possible — off its own platform.
On Thursday, the company is soft-launching the Fubo Sports Network: a live, free-to-consumer TV network for U.S. sports fans offering event coverage, news, and exclusive programming. As part of the initiative, FuboTV is developing its first slate of original content, which it’s rolling out in stages.
“There’s an opportunity to cater to the demand for free content,” said David Gandler, FuboTV’s co-founder and CEO. “We want to be able to make sure we tap into that part of the spectrum in terms of entry-level video.”
To be clear, this isn’t going to be ESPN. At first, Fubo Sports Network is going to have a limited slate of mostly recycled content. Gandler said it might include live-streaming rights for some niche-oriented sports.
Initially, Fubo Sports Network will be available on Xumo, a free, ad-supported service available in 35 million U.S. households via smart TVs, mobile, web, and streaming set-top boxes. The network also will be available on FuboTV’s base subscription package. Gandler hopes to expand distribution with additional partners to reach up to 50 million homes by August.
For the June 27 launch, existing FuboTV Network content will migrate to Fubo Sports Network, including “The Football Report” covering soccer and re-airings of other features.
Original studio shows are slated to debut this August, along with sports-themed movies. Original programming is scheduled to include a weekly sports talk show; a strip of original video podcasts; and content from partners including simulcasts of their produced shows and sports highlights.
Eventually, Gandler envisions Fubo Sports Network to be a full 24-hour service, modeled on the way Cheddar (acquired this spring by cable operator Altice USA) stepped up from broadcasting live financial news a few hours daily to becoming (more or less) a fully scheduled network. “It’s a more edgy version of a sports network,” said Gandler.
The company has two goals for Fubo Sports Network. First, it wants to use the free streaming service to drive brand awareness — and, ideally, have cord-nevers subscribe to one of its premium pay-TV bundles. The company also is hoping to generate $5 million in off-platform incremental ad revenue in the first year, according to Gandler.
FuboTV started planning for the free, ad-supported network launch three months ago, and is nearing a deal to hire someone to manage Fubo Sports Network as a full-time GM. The streaming network’s ad load will be 5-6 minutes per hour (half of broadcast TV) and will leverage FuboTV’s server-side ad insertion technology that it uses for inventory on networks on the subscription-TV service.
FuboTV’s bid to develop a new revenue stream from free, ad-supported video comes after the company earlier this spring hiked the subscription price of its base internet TV package of 90-plus channels by 22%, to $54.99 per month (up $10 from the previous $44.99). Fubo faces a slew of competitors in the over-the-top TV segment, including Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, Hulu and PlayStation Vue. FuboTV declined to provide a current subscriber count; it last said it had nearly 250,000 paying users as of the end of September 2018.
New York-based FuboTV’s owners include Disney (through its acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets), Sky (now owned by Comcast) and AMC Networks.