SBJ/Sept. 4-10, 2017/Media

Listen up: TuneIn continues to bet on NFL with streaming audio

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Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

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here’s no shortage of media-related storylines to follow this NFL season, from TV ratings to Amazon’s streams.

One much smaller story I will be watching likely is flying under the radar for many of you.

The audio streaming service TuneIn is continuing to bet on sports as the best way to increase the number of subscribers.

Considering that the NFL has long believed that it is responsible for the successes of DirecTV, ESPN and Fox Sports, I am interested to find out how much the presence of NFL programming helps TuneIn’s business.

I’m not pretending that streaming audio is the type of story that will have lasting impact on the league. But it should provide a barometer of the NFL’s popularity across many platforms.

First Look podcast — arrival of the NFL and plenty to discuss:


The Houston Texans’ Lamar Miller takes part in a TuneIn audiocast. The service also has deals with MLB, the NBA and NHL, plus partnerships with rights holders.
TUNEIN
TuneIn’s business is much smaller than television or Amazon. The company does not give out its subscriber numbers other than to say that it has 75 million monthly active users. That makes it difficult to judge success. Its executives have identified SiriusXM as a competitor, particularly in the battle to pick up sports fans. The executive who runs content for TuneIn, Kevin Straley, used to have the same job for SiriusXM.

TuneIn launched a pay tier two years ago — around the same time it cut its first NFL deal. Subscribers who pay $10 per month or $100 per year get access to the live audio feeds for all of the NFL’s teams. TuneIn also included shoulder programming and a RedZone-style look-in show for paying subscribers.

TuneIn executives clearly see NFL programming as the anchor in the company’s growth.

“The NFL has been one of our strongest strategic partnerships over the last two years,” said Straley, TuneIn’s chief content officer. “Audio has pivoted from terrestrial to satellite to digital, and now with all of these connected devices. We lean in very deeply with the NFL.”

TuneIn’s growth strategy is predicated on the growing popularity of connected devices, like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

“It’s all about having a connection to home,” he said. “Look at the out-of-market fans. It’s incredibly valuable. They don’t want to wait to hear the national feed. They want that slice of home.”

The streaming company’s growth strategy also is based on the total amount of programming it can offer. Straley came to TuneIn in 2011, a few years removed from helping SiriusXM build up its sports business. Straley said he felt constrained by trying to squeeze programming into 170 channels.

“At TuneIn, we don’t have those same bandwidth limitations — it’s a much wider canvas,” he said. “On TuneIn for an NFL Sunday, you’re going to see the home feed, the away feed, the national feed and the multi-language feed. You’ve got multiple options.”

TuneIn’s sports programming strategy goes beyond the NFL. It also has deals with MLB, the NHL and NBA. And it will carry home and away calls for more than 140 FBS and FCS schools through partnerships with ESPN, Fox Sports, IMG College, JMI Sports, Learfield and Outfront.

So far, NFL content has proved to be the most popular. TuneIn’s new NFL deal will allow the company to keep shows on-demand — like coaches shows and game replays. Previously, this type of content only was available live. TuneIn also will carry team-produced content, like podcasts.

TuneIn produces 62 hours per week of programming from studios in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It produces “No Huddle,” a weekday afternoon show with NFL Network host Brian Webber and former player Kordell Stewart. It also produces a RedZone-style show on Sundays called “First and Goal” with Webber and former Jets safety Nick Ferguson.

“That Sunday afternoon window is very active and going directly to that home announcer’s call and pulling back out and going to another feed,” Straley said.


John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.



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