Adam Lewinson, chief content officer at Tubi, discusses the AVOD service’s international expansion and programming strategy.
The AVOD business is booming—as evidenced by several one-time subscription-only players now realizing that an ad-lite version is key to boosting slowing revenue and customer growth—and the team at Tubi is feeling bullish about its positioning in this growing segment. Launched back in 2014, Tubi was acquired by Fox Corporation in 2020 for $440 million. With its new corporate backing, Tubi has expanded both its original programming efforts and its international footprint, last month adding Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama to its existing base of the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. Lewinson tells World Screen about Tubi’s unique proposition and how it’s adding to its slate of 40,000 movies and TV shows and 100-plus local and live news and sports channels.
WS: What has the acquisition of Tubi by Fox meant for your growth story?
LEWINSON: The Fox acquisition of Tubi strategically on both sides has always made so much sense. Ultimately, both companies are focused on ad-supported television, whether linear live, on-demand or FAST channels. Tubi has always believed the free ad-supported model is the past, present and future of the bulk of television viewing. Fox’s investment in Tubi is helping us grow, helping us expand deeper into Latin America and giving us some unique opportunities. A lot of these at the moment are U.S.-based. For example, we’ve launched a Gordon Ramsay FAST channel in the States. We have The Masked Singer exclusively as an AVOD and FAST channel offering. The FOX local stations, we have their news offering exclusively. And then, as of a little over a year ago—and largely thanks to Fox’s investment—we’ve expanded into original content. The bottom line is that it’s just been an ideal fit. You want your entire team to row the boat in the same direction. That doesn’t always happen, particularly in Hollywood! I’m happy to say that that’s happening here across Fox and Tubi.
WS: Tell us about the international expansion strategy.
LEWINSON: We’re continuing to eye further international expansion. We’re doing it through a very deliberate lens. We want to ensure that wherever we launch, we have a truly localized experience and the Tubi DNA in that experience. That means a localized content library paired with localized ad serving, data targeting, etc. That’s the Tubi playbook. Our Canadian business has grown by leaps and bounds. Our Canadian service is the only one that has a French-language section. That speaks to how we’re localizing. It’s similarly personalized in Australia. Mexico has been the key to seeing how we want to continue expanding across LatAm. [In August, we launched] in Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama. We’re continuing to look at more countries.
We launched in 2020 in Mexico with TV Azteca being our key partner in terms of content, advertising and tremendous year-one growth metrics. In year two, we saw TVT—total view time, meaning the number of hours viewed—grow 60 percent year over year in Mexico. Total viewers grew 40 percent year over year. Since day one, we’ve seen a younger demographic in Mexico. We see that everywhere—this is how younger viewers want to consume content. At launch in Mexico, everything was in Spanish, whether that is native or dubbed. We wanted to ensure we had a personalized experience and a great mix of locally produced content. We have great content from TV Azteca and other partners, including Hollywood content that is globally popular, localized in Spanish. Eventually, the viewers in Mexico told us they would like some subset of English-language content. We’re happy to listen to viewers and tailor it to their wants. That’s our job. It’s so interesting for us as we expand to make sure that this is the specific Tubi experience—highly localized, highly personalized—because that speaks to our mission, which is ultimately to democratize content.
WS: How has the international expansion affected your content strategy? I imagine when you started, you were doing U.S.-only deals. As you’re looking at a much broader footprint now, how has that changed your conversations with rights owners?
LEWINSON: Two years ago, we launched Tubi en Español, a dedicated section within the app for Spanish-language content. I have a dedicated group on my team who speak Spanish; they are highly experienced curators with Spanish-language content. That experience and those partnerships with companies like TV Azteca, Olympusat, RCTV and many others originated in our work in the U.S. Our content partners are interested in coming with us. You think of a company like Sony as English-language content, but they have been aggressive about localized production. Some of the offerings we will be rolling out shortly throughout our LatAm countries include the localized versions of The Nanny, Bewitched and Married with Children.
Part of what my team and I are doing is looking to super-serve our viewers. We look at the data, and we see the trends. Anime is tremendously popular across LatAm. One of the early successes I’m seeing in these new countries is Saint Seiya: Saintia Shō. Assuming that continues, my team and I will look to what other Spanish-language anime we can launch. This is what the viewers are telling us that they want. We’re here to give them more. That’s how we look at it: through the macro lens of what countries we go to and then into the granular lens of being focused on personalizing for every single country.
WS: I imagine the content refresh rate differs across genres. How do you determine how much content you need based on your analytics across these territories?
LEWINSON: There is some science to that. Some of this is through the analytical lens, and some is just pragmatic. If you have a telenovela with 100 episodes, even the most avid viewer will probably not binge all of that in one month. Having series for a much longer window is usually helpful because you never know when a viewer will get to the first episode. That’s going to start their journey to the last episode, which could take months, years in some cases, versus movies that have much shorter windows and populate from service to service. A lot of that is just the windowing strategies of the content suppliers. TV content tends to be up for much longer windows because there are more hours.
WS: Is kids’ content still a key part of the service?
LEWINSON: It is. We see tremendous engagement in kids’ content. In the U.S., we have Tubi Kids as a subset within the app. It gives parents the knowledge that what their kids are about to see is age appropriate and that the ad experience will also be age appropriate. We still see tremendous engagement when we have a big movie like Hotel Transylvania or a series like Scooby-Doo or The Flintstones or what have you. Kids will tend to discover a piece of content and watch through all available content. One of my favorite kids’ partnerships in the States is with a Japanese anime called Anpanman. It’s the most popular kids’ property in Asia. Previously, it hadn’t caught on in the States because it hadn’t been dubbed. We dubbed it in English and Spanish, and we see the engagement with kids who’ve never seen it before. We’re about to launch in the U.S. another kids’ series from Asia, never seen before in English. So, pivoting to LatAm, kids’ content is also incredibly important. It’s been incredibly important during the pandemic. Kids are back in school, but when the kids come home, they are still looking to be entertained. We will continue to focus on kids’ content as an important pillar.
WS: What’s on your list of priorities for MIA and MIPCOM?
LEWINSON: A year-plus in on Tubi’s original content strategy, a lot is going on that we haven’t been talking about publicly, and there’s a lot that we’re planning. That’s going to be a key conversation. There are specific content categories that we’re looking to continue to super-serve our viewers—much of that is international. We look forward to meeting with our global partners at MIA and MIPCOM.
WS: I imagine that the strictly SVOD players now embracing AVOD is quite the validation of Tubi’s proposition since day one!
LEWINSON: Well, you said it, and I agree! As a student of television, it’s always been clear to me that the predominant business model has been free with ads and then [premium] pay TV, HBO, etc., has been 10 percent in the States. Perception recently has flipped. Now, given how Wall Street has responded, and more importantly, how viewers have responded to subscription fatigue and understanding the full cost, perception has flipped back to free with ads being the way viewers want to consume content. I saw this in my days of ad-supported cable. The Tubi team has always seen it. And the Fox team sees it. Ad-supported television will be the dominant model. There’s room for the pay model and always will be for more premium content. But in general, viewers are demanding free; they’re comfortable with ad-supported in exchange for the free experience. It doesn’t mean that you won’t watch House of the Dragon. Many, many people will. But by and large, just the appeal of free ad-supported will continue to expand globally.
WS: There’s something to that lean-back linear channel experience!
LEWINSON: Through the U.S. lens, we see that level of engagement. We launched a Gordon Ramsay FAST channel, and it’s doing tremendously well. It’s just a great sampling opportunity for new content. The great thing about democratizing content is that it gives you every opportunity to find different paths for how to view this content.