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Murdoch’s new streaming service Tubi ‘will struggle to win UK viewers’

Can Tubi succeed where TalkTV failed?

Rupert Murdoch’s latest bid for TV dominance is a free “fun” streaming service which is stealing viewers from Netflix and Disney+ in the US.

But experts warned that Tubi’s mix of classic shows, blockbuster movies and cult “drag queen vampire horror” originals could struggle to break into an already crowded UK market.

Launched in Britain this week, Tubi offers 20,000 movies and TV episodes on-demand, ranging from rom-coms, Mary Berry baking shows and Marvel’s The Runaways, to originals including House of Heat, a Love Island-style reality series featuring Only Fans creators and vampire movie, Slay.

There is no “sign in” for Tubi, which runs adverts around programmes.

The Fox-owned service is now the fastest-growing streamer in North America, edging out Disney +, picking up Gen Z viewers who want instant entertainment without paying Netflix’s rising fees.

Tubi, a free ad-supported new streamer owned by Murdoch’s Fox, is launching in the UK

Bought as a start-up by Mr Murdoch’s Fox Corporation in 2020 for £348m, Tubi’s unashamedly populist mission to “give viewers more of what they want” echoes the philosophy which the media tycoon brought to The Sun and Sky TV.

But will it fare better than his last venture, TalkTV, which failed to win enough viewers to challenge the BBC and now lives on as a YouTube channel and radio station, with Piers Morgan’s Uncensored show now sitting online as a separate entity?

Tubi will have to compete against better-known free UK platforms including iPlayer and Channel 4’s on demand service as well as Netflix.

Media analyst Alex DeGroote told i: “Murdoch has backed a number of quasi start-ups in media over the years. Some are huge successes but others are failures like TalkTV and MySpace.

“Tubi is a late entrant to UK, which is a very crowded streaming market: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Apple TV. Its target demographic is young, Gen Z and Millennials – an elusive and fickle market.”

He added: “There are many well established social media apps, which already compete for consumer attention and spending.”

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 05: Free streaming service Tubi launched a multi-city marketing campaign on August 5, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Tubi)
Free streaming service Tubi’s marketing campaign in 2019 in Hollywood, California (Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty/Tubi)

Tom Harrington, head of television at Enders Analysis, told i: “Free ad-supported streaming services have been extremely buzzy in the last few years, especially given the very strong growth in the US by the likes of Tubi and Pluto TV. However, the UK has a very different video market to the US.

“Thanks to the UK’s Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) there has always been a massive quantity of very high-quality programming available for free (at least at the point of use) while pay-TV is a lot cheaper and has remained more resilient.”

New legislation will give apps for PSBs like ITVX more prominence on smart TVs and streaming sticks over Tubi, which must also compete with YouTube. “There is even less room for these new products when you appreciate that viewing of long-form content is declining overall,” Mr Harrington said.

“One advantage however, is that in the UK, there is a growing appetite for US content which would expect to dominate Tubi’s library.”

Tubi bosses believe a provocative UK ad campaign, positioning the brand as a “fun” platform to “snobby” alternatives will sell the newcomer as a bold outsider.

“Our tagline was ‘taking the guilt out of guilty pleasure viewing,’” said David Salmon, Tubi’s managing director of international. The platform has hit 80 million active users by “serving programmes people actually enjoy watching”.

Despite the competition, Tubi “would not be launching in the UK if we didn’t think there was a problem we could be the solution to,” said Anjali Sud, Tubi CEO.

The “fun” has gone out of TV, with subscribers wearily scrolling through Netflix for something to watch and feeling obliged to plough through expensive, prestige dramas, Ms Sud believes.

“We are judgement free. We don’t believe in telling people what you should be watching. We’re removing the pressure people feel to watch something everyone else is watching. We’re making some originals but we’re not making expensive shows like Game Of Thrones.”

Where TalkTV targeted Sun readers seeking an opinion-led alternative to the BBC, Tubi believes there are under-served UK audiences including ethnic minority and LGBTQIA viewers.

With hundreds of Bollywood and African Nollywood movies, as well as the odd art house Bafta-winner like Aftersun starring Paul Mescal, Tubi will cast its net wide for curious viewers.

Although Tubi’s catalogue of cult shows have helped attract Gen Z viewers in the US, the simplicity of its interface appeals to older users – and one in particular. “I don’t know exactly what Rupert Murdoch is watching but I have seen him rock his Tubi socks in meetings so I know he’s a fan,” Ms Sud said.

After spending billions of dollars on programmes to retain subscribers who signed up during Covid, streaming giants are now cutting spending on original shows and raising revenues by licensing their back catalogue to rivals like the BBC and Tubi.

Rolling out Tubi is the first big play from Rupert’s son Lachlan, since he took the reins of the News Corp empire from his father last year.

“Our expansive content library and our differentiated user base have solidified Tubi’s position as the most watched free TV and movie streaming service in the US,” Lachlan told Fox investors last month. But questions remain over how a service relying on advertising rather than subscriptions can make a profit.

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