What’s next for STIRR, the free streaming service Thinking Media just acquired

Broadcasting company Sinclair recently sold its ad-supported free streaming television service (FAST). HUSTLE has Thinking about the media, a startup that provides cloud-based streaming solutions for FAST and over-the-top (OTT) services. The new owners have ambitious plans for the streamer, including international expansion, tripling its library of on-demand content, and becoming an AI-native streamer with advanced search capabilities.

CordCuttersNews announced the news of the deal, which was officially closed two weeks ago. The acquisition comes amid a surge in FAST viewership among users looking to save money as more premium streamers raise the price of their subscriptions. According to Samba TV, 1 in 3 US users have subscribed to FAST services in 2023.

When Sinclair launched STIRR in 2019, the service offered more than 100 free, ad-supported live TV channels and more than 5,000 hours of TV shows and movies. As of this writing, live channels have been removed from the streaming platform, but there is still on-demand content.

STIRR will receive three times more on-demand content in the coming months, Thinking Media founders Todd Carter (CEO) and Scott Schlichter (President) told TechCrunch.

“The only thing we didn't bring in for various reasons were the local stations that Sinclair removed from their station group,” said Schlichter, founder of digital talent and branding agency Dogma Studios. “But we have a big interest in local, we have a big interest in current events… We're actively exploring that and trying to rebuild that.” From a linear perspective, you will see content that is very familiar to what was there before.

The company is currently renegotiating many of the old content licensing agreements. So, by the end of March, viewers should start seeing many titles returning to STIRR, as well as some brand new content.

Image credits: HUSTLE

STIRR is adding more niche categories to target a wider audience. By June, STIRR will add categories such as travel & exploration, fitness & wellness, cooking, automotive, technology & innovation, fashion, home improvement & DIY, education, games, as well as news and opinion, among others. STIRR's catalog is relatively empty at the moment, featuring only a few genres like adventure, comedy, documentaries, drama, horror, mystery, sports, and children's content.

“If you think about the television market today, it tends to be universal and targeted to a small number of very large general audiences. We are interested in a very large number of smaller, intent-oriented, niche audiences,” said Carter, who previously co-founded technology and media company SEEEN.

Thinking Media is also working to secure international rights to support its growth plans. In the first and second quarters of 2024, STIRR is expected to expand to the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. It will also launch Spanish-language content and programs in LATAM territories.

STIRR is currently available on the web, Apple TV, iOS and Android devices worldwide. It will soon roll out to other smart TV platforms like Tizen, Amazon Fire and Roku once “the transfer to these app store accounts from Sinclair Broadcast Group to Thinking Media is complete,” the company said .

“[STIRR has] 8.5-10 million installs across all major platforms. We want to embrace that and make sure you realize that this is still your home and we're going to bring you the content that you want and we're going to add to that and provide new features that we think you'll enjoy,” Schlichter said. added.

Image credits: Screenshot from STIRR.com

In addition to content, Thinking Media also plans to integrate its proprietary features into the platform, starting with “Key Video Moments,” which addresses second-screen behavior by turning mobile phones into a companion device. Specifically, bringing search engine results to STIRR.

“We talk about synchronization; having your mobile phone and TV synchronized while you watch,” Schlichter said, using the popular show “Hells Kitchen” as an example. By bringing a web user experience to STIRR, viewers could simultaneously search for a recipe while watching their favorite chef.

“If you're a fan of a show and want to get more involved with that show, there's no way to do that on any existing platform… you go to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Discord, or Reddit, but not [the streaming service]. And that’s where this idea of ​​Web TV integration and user journey comes in,” Carter said.

“Key Video Moments” is also partly a social feature, Carter added. Viewers can share their findings on social media and messaging platforms.

STIRR's user interface is simpler than that of its FAST competitors. We therefore hope that the introduction of innovative features will give new life to the service.

“There's this incredible opportunity to look at STIRR as a lab for innovation in Web TV… so we can build on what Sinclair Broadcast Group has created and take the next step,” Carter added.

Thinking Media has already made other technological improvements to the STIRR platform, including replacing its video player with a new “interactive” player that streams HLS (HTTP live streaming) and ultra-low latency, aimed at ” synchronized audiences,” Carter explained. There is also WebRTC support, leading us to believe that STIRR will eventually have a live chat feature.

Additionally, the company replaced the entire backend, which is now based on a content data graph, similar to Google's Knowledge Graph because it brings together data from various sources.

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