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Sinclair Enters Streaming Arena With Entertainment Bundle and Local Channels

Sinclair Broadcast Group is diving into the increasingly crowded streaming platform arena with the launch today of Stirr, a free OTT entertainment bundle offering local news and general entertainment, sports and lifestyle channels.

Sinclair aims to leverage the near-national reach of its sprawling station group with its strong local presence in markets across the country into an offering narrowly tailored for regional tastes.

“Anybody can turn it on and watch anything, anywhere,” said Adam Ware, Stirr’s general manager. “There’s no log-in or passwords.”

Stirr will be available via Stirr.com for desktops and via an app for iOS and Android devices, and via AmazonFire TV, Apple TV and Roku.

Stirr offers a collection of advertising-supported streaming channels devoted to niche lifestyle interests — from pets to local sports to science fiction movies — along with a menu of VOD programs from each channel. It will also feature a channel dubbed Stirr City carrying simulcasts of local newscasts and programming of local interest according to a viewer’s television market selection from the 89 markets serviced by Sinclair stations. There will be no geographic restrictions on the markets that users can view.

“In general we’re trying to think of ourselves as more than just the operator of local TV stations,” said Scott Ehrlich, Sinclair’s VP of emerging platform content. “We think about the services we offer the local community in terms of entertainment and marketing and information provided to our customers.” 

Sinclair hopes to reach new viewers in a fragmented universe by repackaging the local content produced by its 170-plus stations as well as select programs from the many digital multicast channels out there. The local Stirr channels will be curated by a team of programmers working with Ware in Santa Monica, Calif., who will draw on news and other local content from relevant Sinclair stations and selected programming from Stirr’s channel partners. Sinclair stations invest significantly in covering high school and other local sports in numerous markets; now some of those games will have a second run on Stirr.

In primetime, the Stirr City channels will offer a movie rather than simulcast programming from Sinclair’s network partners — a move that would probably draw the ire of the Big Four.

Among the 20 other channels on the Stirr lineup at launch are mostly low-profile digital multicast channels, which have proliferated in recent years. The news startup Cheddar is on board, as is NASA TV, Comet (sci-fi), Buzzr (game shows), ConTV (genre), Dove Channel (family), Pet Collective, Stadium (spots) and TBD (viral video clips). There has been speculation that Sinclair also aimed to launch a conservative-leaning competitor to Fox News as a streaming venture, but there is no such channel on Stirr so far.

Sinclair aims to expand the lineup to at least 50 outlets by the end of this year. Sinclair controls all advertising sales on the platform through a revenue-sharing deal with its channel partners. In the digital streaming format, Sinclair will have better ability to sell targeted advertising as it will be able to identify a sports fan in Seattle, or a pet owner in Nashville and other specific audience characteristics, the tools most sought-after by marketers.

Sinclair has been developing the technological infrastructure to support the bundled content of Stirr for more than 18 months. The company — a lightning rod for critics because of its size and the unabashed conservative skew of much of its commentary programming — has been leading the charge for the FCC to approve a new broadcasting standard, ATSC 3.0, that Sinclair has positioned as a savior technology for local TV at a time when stations are struggling with declining ratings and heightened competition. The hope is that ATSC 3.0 eventually allows local TV stations to deliver a large bundle of channels, data and other services in addition to their primary established broadcast channels.

Stirr is a step in that direction for Sinclair stations, although the service is entirely delivered via Internet for now.

Sinclair already was an early mover into authenticated streaming as a distribution platform with the launch of its Tennis Channel app in 2013. Stirr comes on the heels of NBCUniversal’s announcement Monday that it is planning for the launch of a free, ad-supported streaming platform in 2020.

Ware said Sinclair plans to step up the promotion for Stirr in a few weeks, and Sinclair’s stations will be promoting the service on-air and in local newscasts. The pitch to consumers will emphasize that the service is another way to access free over-the-air television.

“We’ve found that it is a really effective message to talk about the value proposition of free TV,” Ware said.

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