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Is Live News The Next FAST Frontier?

Fox-owned Tubi announced this week that it’s adding nearly 80 live local news channels from four big station groups to the news section of its free, ad-supported TV service.

With the deal, the “News on Tubi” section of the most popular FAST platform will feature 80 24-hour-a-day local news feeds from stations owned Cox, Tegna, Hearst and Scripps, which Tubi says gives it more live local feeds than any other service. The service already featured 17 local Fox affiliates’ feeds, plus Altice’s New York City station.

The new feeds will be rolled over the next year, and come from 58 designated market areas around the country, including 24 of the top 25.

The News on Tubi section already featured content from an array of nationally or internationally focused services, including NewsNOW from FOX, FOX SOUL, Bloomberg TV, NBC News NOW, CBC, PeopleTV, WeatherNation, Cheddar, fubo Sports Network, Black News Channel, Euronews, and Estrella News. Tubi said it also plans to add other such national news providers in the coming year.

It’s only the latest move among streamers to expand their offerings of live news, one of the last bastions of differentiation for broadcast and cable.

Sinclair-owned STIRR has around 75 feeds from its station group, one of the nation’s largest, though predominantly in smaller markets. Sinclair executives have also said they plan to build a national news presence, augmenting the local stations’ coverage with news bureaus in Top 10 markets such as New York and Los Angeles where Sinclair acquired regional sports networks.

Comcast-owned hybrid service Peacock features NBC News, and ViacomCBS says live news (and sports) will be a big part of Paramount+, the rebranded and beefed-up CBS All Access, when it launches March 4.

WarnerMedia executives have been mulling a free, ad-supported tier for HBO Max, similar to Peacock’s approach. Adding some portion of CNN streams would seem like a natural addition, if existing deals with cable providers don’t get in the way.

That Tubi would make a similarly expansive move into news is hardly surprising, given that it’s owned by a company betting big on live sports, news and reality competitions for its continued relevance across broadcast and cable. That’s what’s left after you sell off $71 billion worth of media company to Disney.

And it makes sense to try to translate that position of strength in news to the newest Fox holding, Tubi, which it acquired last spring as the last and biggest of the independent FAST majors.

But once people can find your local news, all the sports they may care about, and reruns of splashy reality competition shows (as Tubi is already doing with Fox broadcast’s hit The Masked Singer and others), what’s going to keep people attached to the cable cord?

This is particularly interesting to ponder give that, even in its current fast-diminishing state, traditional broadcast and cable remain the most popular ways to get TV in the United States (Europe too, according to new statistics released this week)?

Another worthwhile question: should a given news service try to be exclusive to one platform, or, as with the FAST services themselves, try to be on as many distribution platforms as possible? That’s a particularly acute question for operations such as NBC News, which created daily news shows for the ill-fated Quibi and already has one of its services on Tubi, among other outlets.

And it’s not the only question begged by the FAST flow to news:

*Will news become table stakes for FAST services, something they have to have, but with little differentiation between them?

*Will the additional reach provide more revenue to keep local news operations substantial at a time when broadcast stations are hitting cyclical and organic decline?

*Local news can appeal, particularly to older demographics, but are those local newscasters enough of a difference-maker to bring audiences in the door?

As Walter Cronkite might have put it, stay tuned for further updates.