Gannett relaunches CTV streaming channels as ‘home’ for original, long-form videos

The header image shows a fist punching through a TV screen.

Gannett is relaunching its CTV streaming channels — USA Today News and USA Today SportsWire — with more programming and distribution, after seeing a rise in views and time spent watching video content from the news publisher in the past year on free, ad-supported TV platforms.

The CTV channels’ distribution will expand to Tubi, STIRR (part of Sinclair Broadcast Group), Plex and VISION (par of Converge Philippines). “We are investing a lot more in streaming as of late because since 2018 we have seen growth hand over fist,” said Caroline Harris, vp of digital distribution at Gannett. Provider Amagi will oversee tech solutions for the streaming channels.

Since launching in 2018 on Xumo, another free, third-party streaming video service, Gannett’s CTV channels have expanded onto about a dozen FAST platforms, including The Roku Channel and Amazon News, to reach over 25 million monthly views, according to Gannett. Last year, the publisher’s streaming channels experienced a 200% increase in average view duration across all platforms. “This is an area of fast growth, an area we need to play in,” Harris said, without providing exact figures.

The two relaunched channels will serve as a “home” for video content across the Gannett ecosystem, she said. Programming on the CTV channels will now include documentaries from USA Today Network’s newsrooms, such as “Boots on the Ground: The Black community in Minneapolis finds peace after George Floyd.”

It will also feature long-form, original video content and franchise series from USA Today Studios (its in-house production company), including “State of America,” which covers the political landscape in America, “Problem Solved,” in which experts at Reviewed.com and USA Today test products and “Sports Seriously,” a weekly, half-hour sports talk show. Other programming, like its annual awards show for high school sports, will also air on the channels.

USA Today News and USA Today SportsWire will also feature video content produced by other production houses, bought by Gannett to bulk up the 24-hour programming schedule, in areas like entertainment, travel and food, Harris said.

The channels on Xumo were not programmed this way. Instead, it featured clips produced for other properties that were edited together for a 30-minute to an hour block of content, Harris said. But both viewers and advertisers want “longer-form content and a real schedule like a TV network.”

Jesse Math, vp of advanced TV & video solutions at digital marketing agency Tinuiti, said advertisers are “sometimes hesitant” about advertising beside video clips, which could be considered lower-quality, and that they want to “differentiate those from true TV content,” such as episode-length videos.

With the relaunch of USA Today News and USA Today SportsWire, shows like Humankind, which was previously made up of clips of good news stories from around the world, now have a host to introduce different segments and themes to give more context to the stories, Harris said.

“For the streaming business that we had previously just dipped our toe in the water, now we are seeing real engagement and substantial growth happening year over year, so it felt time to mature the channels,” she said.

As for ad revenue from Gannett’s CTV channels, “it’s a mix of models,” Harris said. Some of Gannett’s distribution deals require the third-party platform to sell 100% of the ad inventory, while in other cases Gannett sells a portion of its inventory, either through direct sales or programmatically. Harris did not share revenue numbers or name specific partners that have bought in.

“We are moving more and more to negotiating deals that allow us to control at least a portion of our inventory, or have direct sales diverted to us,” Harris said. “Direct access to inventory and direct sales access [gives us] more flexibility to do what we can in terms of direct sales and sponsorships.”

One of the “trickier things” about the streaming TV space is the “fragmentation of rights to sell ads,” Math said. When distributing via a FAST platform, a publisher may be giving up control of selling and measuring ads, in exchange for ease, he said. A publisher with an owned and operated platform allows that company to collect first-party data on content and ad performance, but requires the team build its own infrastructure.

The conundrum leaves publishers deciding when to “create a property they own versus looking for distribution elsewhere,” he said.

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