Amid the struggle by major media companies to attract consumers to their premium streaming video services, there’s a fight on another over-the-top front — for the screens in business locations like bars and restaurants.
Austin, Texas-based startup Atmosphere has been quietly ramping up its B2B streaming business over the past two years, aggregating content from multiple partners. Now the company is getting ready to launch into original programming: Atmosphere has hired former NBC News exec Micah Grimes (above right) as VP of news, tasked with assembling a team of reporters, editors and producers to create a daily 20-30 minute wheel of news content updated throughout the day.
Grimes previously spent more than five year at NBC News, most recently as head of social media for NBC News and MSNBC. He’s the second news veteran to join Atmosphere this year: In March, the company tapped former Newsy CEO Blake Sabatinelli (above left) as chief operating officer.
“Original programming is the next frontier for us,” Sabatinelli said. “This is an opportunity for us to be disruptive with the introduction of audio-optional news.”
Atmosphere’s “audio-optional” streaming content means you should be able to watch it without sound and it will still make sense. The company targets the service at businesses like hotels, bars, restaurants, gyms, and doctor and dentist offices.
The company is currently calling the forthcoming news channel Atmosphere News (that could change) and plans to launch it in the middle of the third quarter of 2021. It will feature a mix of original news reporting and aggregated content, according to Grimes, who started at Atmosphere two weeks ago.
Atmosphere News’ goal is to deliver straight news, Grimes said, with text and other visuals that can tell the stories from across the other end of a barroom. He also said he wants to avoid politically divisive and clickbait-y stories. “TV news has gotten a bit too loud, a bit too in your face,” he said. The startup’s news channel is “getting back to information… We’re going to the news consumer who just wants to be informed.”
Grimes and Sabatinelli crossed paths earlier in their careers (both had worked at Scripps-owned ABC affiliate WFTS in Tampa, Fla.) and kept in touch. Grimes said that when Sabatinelli left Newsy to join Atmosphere earlier this year “that really turned my head… I think this company has tapped into something that’s under the radar.”
Historically, the kinds of locations Atmosphere is targeting have subscribed to cable or satellite TV. Atmosphere’s cord-cutting pitch is that business owners can ditch pay TV and switch to its free, ad-supported streaming video service. The company provides provides free Apple TV set-tops for venues to stream the service to HDTVs, and Atmosphere makes money by selling ads in the streaming channels.
Atmosphere was formed in 2019 by brothers Leo and John Resig as a spinoff from Chive Media Group, whose properties include meme and entertainment website The Chive. In April, Atmosphere announced a $25 million Series B funding round at a valuation of $275 million. Investors in Atmosphere include Valor Equity Partners, S3 Ventures and Capstar Capital.
Atmosphere (atmosphere.tv) claims it currently distributes its streaming channels to more than 13,000 venues across the U.S., reaching more than 17 million viewers monthly, via partners including Westin, Taco Bell and Texas Roadhouse. Sabatinelli says the company has its own direct ad sales team; top advertisers on Atmosphere include liquor and beverage brands, as well as retailers, CPG, travel and other categories.
“I see an opportunity to achieve significant scale,” Sabatinelli said, adding, “TV viewers are becoming increasingly difficult to find.”
Currently, the focus for Atmosphere News is to get the streaming channel launched, eventually staffed with a team of “a few dozen folks driving this every day,” Grimes said. At some point, if there’s a business case, Atmosphere News could brand out into a direct-to-consumer direction with an app, he added.
Pictured above: Blake Sabatinelli (left), Micah Grimes