The new federal infrastructure bill, signed into law by President Biden on Nov. 15, includes $65 billion to expand broadband access across the nation.
This would make access to high-speed Internet a basic right across the United States — up to one third of the rural population can currently access the Internet only via dial-up — and many low-income families will continue to receive a government subsidy toward broadband access.
An expansion of broadband means an expansion of the total streaming market shouldn’t be far behind. It will be the free services with live sports, local TV news or high-quality originals that do best from the infrastructure bill. Broadband expansion is aimed at providing poorer Americans with access to high-speed Internet, and thus it makes sense that free streaming services, along with YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and other free formats, will benefit most.
NFL rights will be a big driver among those poised to gain from the increased number of homes available to stream. Of the three broadcasters with regularly scheduled NFL games, only Fox is looking to replicate the traditional model — i.e., free availability — with streaming.
It’s an old adage, but free is the best price, which will help Fox to position Tubi as a streaming go-to for new audiences by utilizing its NFL package as efficiently as possible when it picks up its option to multicast games on Tubi in the future.
With Tubi also launching its own originals and being used as the streaming home for past seasons of Fox shows such as “The Masked Singer,” Tubi is set to be a core part of Fox’s viewer strategy — focused on AVOD versus SVOD — and will reap the benefits of the forward-thinking plan.
Amazon will also gain from the increase in broadband access. Commerce and AWS aside, Amazon has been unveiling a very smart play in free streaming across Twitch (NFL multicasts from Prime Video), IMDb TV (big-name originals) and News from Fire TV (local TV newscasts).
The NFL will be a lure for audiences new to streaming, but Amazon will be able to advertise its free streaming hits to viewers. Considering IMDb TV has new content from Judge Judy and Dick Wolf — content that should be in line with the tastes of the heartland — it’s not hard to see this helping to convert new viewers from rural areas.
IMDb TV also has action shows including “Alex Rider” and “Leverage: Redemption,” which will be able to attract others new to streaming. Don’t discount the pending Amazon purchase of MGM and ability to tap into MGM’s rich TV history in reality TV as another way for Amazon to appeal to those who haven’t had access to streaming before.
Consider, too, that both Fox and Amazon have embraced the distribution of local TV news via their free streaming platforms (unlike ViacomCBS, which has opted to put local TV news behind the paywall on Paramount+). This will also play a role in being positioned for new viewers to pick up these services versus free services that don’t have news or SVODs that charge for elements free with an antenna.
But the infrastructure bill won’t be a case of a rising tide floating all boats, as the majority of media companies have put their eggs firmly in the subscription streaming basket. Netflix in particular may have been in a position to benefit more were it not strictly subscription.
Given that many subscription services have ad-supported tiers, these also want to grab as many viewers as possible in order to boost their ad revenues. This is why almost every major SVOD in the U.S. has a free distribution deal with a wireless carrier and represents the most likely way for poorer consumers to access their content.
Considering the socioeconomic factors, it’s likely those gaining access to broadband in the next few years will be unable to subscribe to many, if any, SVOD services or move to pay once the distribution deals end. It’s for that reason free streaming services, led by Fox’s Tubi and Amazon’s IMDb TV and News by Fire TV, are positioned to do best from the increased broadband access coming from the infrastructure bill.