Unmasking Tubi: What Murdoch Will Do Next With His New Asset

Tubi's unveiling by new owner Fox
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

Fox is wasting no time with Tubi.

Just days after the deal to acquire closed on April 20th, the new owner of the largest independent video on demand service on the market announced that it will be making available one of its broadcast network’s hit shows for the first time, with the first two seasons of Fox’s “The Masked Singer.” New episodes of the current season, one of the few hot properties left in primetime, will be available too, delayed by several weeks after the initial airing on Fox.

The quick start to corporate integration demonstrates the priority that Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch has made Tubi’s $440 million purchase, which he reportedly drove. With ViacomCBS and Comcast already in the AVOD game via similar recent acquisitions in Pluto TV and Xumo, respectively, Murdoch was smart to act fast. 

The move represents what is the first of surely many Fox shows finding their way to Tubi, which offers Fox a new audience to dangle in front of advertisers. Crucially, these viewers tend to be younger, cord-cutting viewers, extending the reach of the network that this demo has largely abandoned. 

As Murdoch more diplomatically put it in March’s acquisition announcement, “Tubi will immediately expand our direct-to-consumer audience and capabilities and will provide our advertising partners with more opportunities to reach audiences at scale.”

Note Murdoch did something different than Comcast and Viacom, which went with services anchored in linear streaming channels, airing pre-programmed content in the same manner as pay TV. Having lost the content library part of his father’s empire when it was sold to Disney, Murdoch lacks those companies’ ability to create dozens and dozens of channels based on catalog IP. 

Using popular on-air content from the network to easily add value might be the only available option, but it is also one that should create more visibility for Tubi, and ultimately, Fox.

By targeting an audience who may not typically watch their core broadcast network, Fox will be able to monetize their existing content in two ways. First, by drawing new views to existing content, increasing its value. Second, by hopefully converting some Tubi viewers into fans of the show, and making them want to tune in to the freely available Fox network in order to watch the latest episodes.

The use of “The Masked Singer” as the toe in the water is a canny decision, as it is both a popular show and is designed so that viewers do not need to be well-versed with seasons’ worth of lore to be able to enjoy the most recent episodes. 

The announcement didn’t go into detail beyond saying that current episodes “will be available on Tubi in the weeks following their air on Fox.” This suggests that FOX is not crossing swords with existing distribution rights, including next-day availability on Hulu and VOD via pay-TV subscription, and is instead looking to add another level of monetization to the show.

But this is only the beginning of the integrations Fox will be making with Tubi.

Fox is already dabbling with OTT streaming, with the linear pre-programmed online network Fox Soul operating since January. Fox suggested that similar channels will be coming for Tubi, noting in its press release that Tubi won’t have original programming but instead the parent company will “look to leverage its expertise in news, both local and national, and sports.”

This suggests that Fox will be boosting Tubi’s VOD capabilities with linear channels, much as Pluto TV and Xumo (owned by Comcast) already do, and have seen great success with their inclusion. Sinclair’s STIRR service already features linear streams for all local affiliates, so the precedent exists. This would be the simplest way to leverage local news expertise from Fox, by making it available to online audiences without cable or an antenna.

National news is a little trickier, given Fox already operates the SVOD service Fox Nation and won’t want to cannibalize it, or potentially upset their cable affiliate fees by making Fox News available for free. It would be possible to create a linear channel similar to “NBC News” on Pluto TV, which simply features repurposed rolling clips of breaking news. This would leverage the strength of Fox News’s pundits and reporters, and also not step on Fox Nation’s toes.

The mention of sports is intriguing, given Fox holds rights to NFL, MLB, the USGA, NASCAR, MLS, the World Cup, WWE Smackdown and several NCAA conferences. Some of these sports have existing digital partners, such as NFL Thursday Night, which airs linearly on Fox and digitally on Amazon, so they may be unavailable to air on Tubi.

Fox is, however, already in the sports linear streaming space, operating a Fox Sports channel across several FAST services. It would not be unreasonable to expect a boosted version of that to stream on Tubi, featuring highlights from several of the competitions to which Fox holds the rights. 

The final piece of corporate synergy to expect is for Fox Soul to have a linear streaming channel within Tubi, in addition to its current standalone service. With Tubi’s 25 million and growing MAU, getting additional exposure to their latest brand is a no-brainer.

Initial signs though are that the media giant has a competent plan for using their new acquisition to enhance the value of both their existing properties, and that of Tubi. With Murdoch still relatively fresh into the most prominent role his father Rupert has thrust him into yet, the Fox-Tubi deal is evidence that Lachlan has a nose for smart strategy.