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Sinclair Broadcast Group has opened up a new front in the streaming wars: Local markets.

The TV station giant is expanding the ad-supported STIRR platform designed to help its nearly 200 stations better monetize digital viewing of newscasts and syndicated programming. Adam Ware, Sinclair’s VP and general manager of national networks and platforms, talks about the growth of STIRR and why local TV is poised to prosper in the ad-supported streaming arena in the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business.”

STIRR launched with very little fanfare in January 2019. Like most other video platforms, STIRR has seen a big boost in usage and general circulation amid the pandemic conditions. Ware said STIRR is about 18 months ahead of its original business plan, with no  “We really have yet to turn on the marketing,” Ware says. “OTT revenues are exploding on a local basis.”

STIRR has evolved into a mix of live streams of newscasts and on-demand access to locally produced and syndicated entertainment programs that run on Sinclair stations. For example, in the Baltimore market area, STIRR offers next-day access to “Jeopardy!” episodes because Sinclair’s WBFF-TV carries the quiz show.

Another factor that encouraged Sinclair to invest in STIRR was the emerging understanding about how streaming viewing is different from traditional linear TV consumption. For starters, the nation’s top markets for streaming are not New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. In a recent survey from Nielsen, the busiest DMAs for streaming in the U.S. were Austin, Texas (ranked as  market No. 40 with about 736,000 TV homes) and Salt Lake City, Utah (market No. 30 with about 953,000 TV homes).

“Sinclair’s footprint matched up really nicely with that,” Ware said. STIRR has also opened up other unexpected business opportunities through conversations with local advertisers. One outfit that has long advertised on Sinclair’s Austin station, CBS affiliate KEYE-TV, had been buying local TV spots to promote horse auctions that were running on Facebook Live. Sinclair’s local sales team set up Bowie Texas Livestock Barn up with its own horse-auction channel carried on STIRR at minimal cost.

“Instead of buying 30-second commercials, they now have their own television channel,” Ware says. The advertiser in turn is now making its STIRR channel available to other equestrian auctioneers.

“There’s a lot of horse auctions out there,” Ware observes.

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.