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

Broadcasting company Sinclair recently sold off its free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) service STIRR to Thinking 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 an international expansion, tripling its on-demand content library and becoming an AI-native streamer with advanced search capabilities.

Cord Cutters News broke the news of the deal, which officially closed two weeks ago. The acquisition comes amid a rise in FAST (free ad-supported streaming) viewership among users looking to save money as more premium streamers raise their subscription prices. According to Samba TV, one in three U.S. users subscribed to FAST services in 2023.

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

STIRR is getting triple the amount of on-demand content in the next few months, Thinking Media founders Todd Carter (CEO) and Scott Schlichter (president) told TechCrunch.

“The only thing that we did not bring over for a variety of reasons are the local stations that Sinclair took from their station group,” Schlichter said, who is the founder of digital talent and brand agency Dogma Studios. “But we have a big interest in local, we have a big interest in news . . . We are exploring that actively and trying to build that back up. From a linear standpoint, you’re going to see very familiar content to what was there before.”

The company is currently renegotiating many of the former content licensing deals, so by the end of March, viewers should start to see a lot of titles return to STIRR, as well as brand-new content.

Image Credits: STIRR

STIRR is adding more niche categories in order to target a broader audience. By June, STIRR will add categories such as travel and exploration, fitness and wellness, cooking, automotive, technology and innovation, fashion, home improvement and DIY, education, gaming, and news and opinion, among others. STIRR’s catalog is relatively bare at the moment, featuring only a few genres like adventure, comedy, documentaries, drama, horror, mystery, sports and kids’ content.

“If you think about the TV market today, it tends to be one size fits all, and they tend to target a small number of very large, general audiences. We’re interested in a very large number of smaller niche intent-oriented audiences,” Carter, who previously co-founded technology and media company SEEEN, said.

Thinking Media is also working on getting international rights to support its growth plans. For the first and second quarters of 2024, STIRR is set to expand to the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. It will also launch Spanish-language content and programming in LatAm territories.

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

“[STIRR has] 8.5 to 10 million installs across all the major platforms. We want to embrace that and make sure you realize this is still home and that 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 added.

Image Credits: Screenshot of 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’re talking about syncing; having your mobile phone and your television in sync while you’re watching,” Schlichter said, using the popular competition show “Hell’s Kitchen” as an example. By bringing a web user experience to STIRR, viewers could simultaneously look up a recipe while watching their favorite chef.

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

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

STIRR’s UI is simpler than its FAST competitors, so introducing innovative features will hopefully give the service a new lease on life.

“There’s this incredible opportunity to think of STIRR as a lab for TV web innovation . . . for us to build on what Sinclair Broadcast Group created and take it to the next step,” Carter added.

Thinking Media has already made other tech enhancements to STIRR’s platform, including replacing its video player with a new “interactive” one that streams HLS (HTTP live streaming) and ultra-low latency, primed for “synchronized audiences,” explained Carter. There’s also WebRTC support, which leads us to believe that STIRR will eventually have a live chat function.

Additionally, the company swapped out the entire back end, which is now based on a content data graph, similar to Google’s Knowledge Graph, as it brings together data from various sources.

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