Lately, there has been a lot of failure in media news, particularly in the subset of streaming platforms. Not a day goes by when something negative about overly ambitious subscription goals not being met, ambitious series not achieving enough traction to warrant being produced beyond one or two seasons, or the pious belief that a name change will somehow bring more people into their tent. And tens of thousands of good, hard-working people with great intentions wind up among the carnage of layoffs and financial run that so many who banked on the entitled geniuses of Silicon Valley to change the world see themselves in today, all the more ready to drink away St. Patrick’s Day, Irish or not.
Thankfully, there are exceptions that occasionally give us reason to believe that finding a path to success and traction are possible. So when this was reported by Jessica Lerner of THE STREAMABLE, as well as in other media outlets, yesterday, my heart was given a rare jolt of positivity:
Some streamers are faring better than others, and among free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) services, the Fox Corporation’s free streamer Tubi has come out on top for the month of February. The streaming service debuted in Nielsen’s The Gauge Total TV and Streaming Snapshot for February. The Gauge, which monitors monthly TV and streaming usage in the United States, reports that Tubi had 1% of all TV watching minutes, above Pluto’s 0.7% ; other FAST streaming services fell below those totals and therefore were not listed.
Now, you may think 1 per cent is neglible, but when you consider that this occurred in a month when streaming’s share of total viewing rose to more than four points over linear cable and an eleven percentage point advantage over broadcast, and that the most-watched broadcast destination, CBS, only achieved a 4 per cent share of viewership while its own streaming services, Pluto and Paramount+, didn’t reach that 1 per cent threshold in a larger segment, it’s significant. For a service that is now owned by FOX, it’s right up there with the accomplishments that MARRIED…WITH CHILDREN and THE SIMPSONS achieved when FOX itself was nascent and finding its way into charts and rankings that had never seen that acronym.
And the common link between that era and this is a former colleague of mine, more importantly the former head of the both the network and studio, Sandy Grushow. A marketing and strategic genius, Grushow spent a quarter-century in the Murdoch camp with some very impressive accomplishments, as his Wikipedia bio outlines:
Grushow spent nearly 25 years at the Fox Entertainment Group, where he helped to create the Fox Broadcasting Company as it appears today. Grushow began his career in the feature film marketing department of 20th Century Fox, overseeing creative campaigns for movies such as Big, Die Hard and Broadcast News. In 1988, Grushow was asked by then chairman Barry Diller to invigorate Fox’s new broadcast TV network as he had the motion picture studio. Grushow built the network’s advertising and promotions department from the ground up between 1988 and 1990, launching signature FOX hits The Simpsons, In Living Color, COPS and 90210. In addition to marketing, Grushow added programming and scheduling responsibilities to his purview in 1990 when he was named executive vice president of the FOX entertainment division. In 1992, at the age of 32, Grushow assumed the presidency of the Fox Entertainment Group entire network division, making him the youngest executive to ever hold the title of network president. In that leadership role, Grushow oversaw the development and launch of The X-Files, Melrose Place, Party of Five, Living Single and MADtv while also expanding the network from four to seven nights of primetime programming. In 1996, following Grushow’s successful network run, he was tasked with building FOX’s television studio division, 20th Century Fox Television Grushow inherited an eighth-place studio with five shows on the air. With Grushow at the helm as President, the studio’s output ballooned to 22 shows; surpassing Warner Bros. Television to become the top ranked studio. In 1999, Grushow was tapped by Rupert Murdoch and Peter Chernin to return to the network he helped build. In a new role as chairman of the Fox Television Entertainment Group, Grushow oversaw both the television studio and the network. Over the next five years, his group helped develop and launch broadcast stalwarts Malcolm in the Middle, Titus, Boston Public, Dark Angel, American Idol, 24, The O.C., The Bernie Mac Show, and finally, House.
Grushow eventually moved on to an advisory role with several Silicon Valley-backed start-ups, eventually honing in on one being nurtured by two veterans of digital advertising, Farhad Massoudi and Thomas Ahn Hicks. They founded Tubi almost nine years ago. Take a look at their Wikipedia to see how they’ve fared over that span:
In May 2017, they raised US$20 million in a round of funding from Jump Capital, Danhua Capital, Cota Capital, and Foundation Capital. In June 2019, Tubi announced that it had over 20 million active monthly users, and later in September, the company reported that users had streamed 132 million hours of content. In September 2020, the company reported 33 million monthly users.
In 2019, CEO Farhad Massoudi announced that Tubi would nearly double its 2018 spending on licensed content, close to US$100 million. In February 2019, Tubi signed a distribution deal with NBCUniversal, which includes 400 TV episodes and films.
On March 17, 2020, Fox Corporation announced that it would acquire Tubi for $440 million, with the sale being completed on April 20; Farhad Massoudi would remain at the company, which would continue as a separate subsidiary.
And as Lerner added, 2023 has gotten off to a downright mercurial start:
Tubi has had an excellent start to 2023. The streaming service added five brand new channels in January and struck a deal with Warner Bros. Discovery later in the month to offer several HBO and HBO Max series as part of WBD’s expansion into FAST channels.
In February, FOX reported that in the second quarter of the 2023 fiscal year, Tubi saw a 41% increase in watching time year-over-year. Undoubtedly contributing to the service’s record watching figures for the previous quarter was that English-language 2022 FIFA World Cup matches were available on-demand through the service.
Also last month, the service aired a Super Bowl that was seen by well over 100 million people that took the platform to viral status, and allowed Massoudi to take a victory lap, In a interview with The Marketplace’s
Tubi, the ad-supported streaming service whose recent Super Bowl ad went viral, is betting that audiences don’t want to watch the same things anymore. And that might be a good thing.
“Monoculture is dead. What that means is media consumption is getting more and more fragmented,” said CEO Farhad Massoudi. “And so we have audiences that love Black cinema, some love horror movies, some want to watch anime. And I think that’s the way of the future.”
We just looked at the data. We realized that these consumers are just looking for that content. And we found many of those. Black cinema was one of them. But I mean, I feel very proud that we’ve been able to serve that community. And we continue to even make originals these days for Black cinema fans.
Hmmm. Zigging when others zag. How very FOX-like, Apropos that eventually, likely with the help of the respected Grushow, Massoudi wound up in the FOX orbit, a $440 million purchase in 2020 bringing them into the world of Murdoch. But instead of simply buying the assets, putting a FOX brand on the platform and sending Massoudi off on his next venture, FOX wisely chose to keep both the name and the visionary in charge. With Murdoch hopefully having learned from eventually forcing out the folks behind MySpace a decade or so earlier, eventually shifting that niche service into a portal that ultimately cratered its value and became one of Murdoch’s worst investments, selling at pennies on the dollar, Massoudi and his team have not only stayed around, they have, in fact, become one of the greatest success stories in the FOX ecosystem. Because of Massoudi’s aggregator plan, and the volume of content he and others like chief content strategist Adam Lewinson have curated, they actually contribute more revenue to the company than the FOX network. Adding live sports to the mix as they did with World Cup opens up even greater future potential.
I’ve had the good fortune to work directly with Grushow and Lewinson. Not only are they brilliant, they are both true mensches. Massoudi’s success and loyalty to his employees, especially in a town where the professional and personal failures of tech and banking peers have become so frequent and notorious, strongly implies he is an outlier in the Bay Area as well.
According to Chabad.org, the word bashert is defined thusly:
Bashert means “destined” or “intended.”: Bashert means predestined by G‑d: An event, set of circumstances, or situation can all be referred to as bashert, implying that whatever happens was orchestrated by G‑d, who ultimately has our best interests in mind.
So perhaps given the backgrounds of those who have stayed around to grow and nurture the platform, the threshold of viewership that Tubi achieved, not to mention ithe near-doubling of its MAUs in just two years, was indeed bashert.
Until next time…