The free streaming service is currently in 21 markets, including Los Angeles, Nashville and Philadelphia.
Jim Long, CEO of parent company Didja, said LocalBTV expects to nearly double its footprint in the U.S. television market. Announcements detailing the new markets and partnerships are expected to happen over the coming weeks, according to Long.
For LocalBTV’s next 20 markets, “we have a big partner” to work with, said Long. The LocalBTV app is available through Roku, Amazon Fire TV, iOS and Android devices.
Long said Didja’s infrastructure that redistributes local channels online will also start supporting more than just the LocalBTV app.
“We will start feeding our streams to other third-party apps soon,” Long said in an interview with The Cord Cutting Report.
Long wouldn’t disclose the new partnerships, but there are plenty of free streaming services that offer a linear-style live TV experience. Those services include Pluto TV, tubi, IMDBTV, Plex, STIRR, XUMO and others.
LocalBTV viewers get mostly sub-channels and independent channels that are available through a TV antenna. PBS, along with its sub-channels and PBS Kids, are available in some markets.
Viewers get free Cloud DVR, which includes unlimited recordings for 28 days, and one terabyte of “permanent storage,” Long said.
The major four broadcasters – ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC – are not included in LocalBTV’s service. But Long said that could soon change.
“We know the majors,” Long said. “We talk to them. We have done deals with a couple of them.”
He said agreements with the major broadcasters have yet to be worked out.
“I’m optimistic you will see us start doing things (with them) this year,” Long said.
LocalBTV strikes deals with local broadcasters before retransmitting a channel online. Such agreements helps Didja avoid lawsuits for copyright infringement that have taken down two predecessors, Locast and Aereo.
The “legal” Locast
LocalBTV is the third attempt to deliver over-the-air broadcasts to an online audience for free.
Long describes LocalBTV as “a legal Locast with a lot more capabilities,” which includes targeted advertising for local broadcasters. LocalBTV functions as an ad-supported TV service that taps into local broadcasts by building out its own infrastructure in each TV market.
“We‘re doing the real grimy and complicated stuff,” Long said. “We love the superlocal markets. No one wants to do what we’re doing.”
Initially Didja said they would expand to between 80 and 100 markets by the end of 2022. But chip shortages have delayed some of LocalBTV’s plans.
“Our first real push is to cover 50 percent of the U.S., depending on opportunities,” Long said.
Aereo and Locast ran afoul of broadcasters and shut down after being sued by broadcasters. Both companies took over-the-air signals available to TV antenna users and live streamed them over the Internet.
Aereo operated for two years, between 2012 and 2014, before a copyright infringement lawsuit that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court led to its demise.
Locast suffered a similar fate. It launched in January 2018, and shut down in September 2021 after a federal judge ruled against the non-profit.
Both lawsuits were brought by the broadcasters alleging copyright infringement. Locast had about 3.2 million subscribers sign up for its service before it shuttered.
When Locast went away, LocalBTV picked up “a healthy bump in viewership” that has stuck around, according to Long.
The most popular channels on LocalBTV are often independently owned. Some offer reruns of older, popular shows, others are bi-lingual channels and are not typically featured in a cable TV service, he said.
Rising fees, fewer pay-TV subscribers
Major networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC are given a free license by the U.S. government to make use of public airwaves.
These same broadcasters reap billions of dollars a year through “retransmission consent fees” collected from subscribers to cable TV, satellite service and other pay-TV operators.
Retransmission fees have been sharply rising. Cable operators in 2019 paid more than $5.5 billion in retransmission fees, a 19.2 percent increase over the previous year, according to an FCC filing by America’s Communications Association.
That has driven up the cost of cable TV and other pay TV customers, according to a number of cable TV providers.
The pay-TV subscriber base is dropping faster than even some industry experts have predicted.
Tracking the no-antenna crowd
Nielsen estimated in 2020 that there are 121 million homes in the U.S. with a television. A decade ago, more than 85 percent of U.S. households paid for cable TV or satellite service. That number is now approaching 50 percent.
A 2020 study from Horowitz Research estimates that 48.4 million households in the U.S. are using a TV antenna.
“What percent have an antenna vs not watching at all?” Long said. “No one is tracking that. But we are tracking that.”
LocalBTV can monetize streaming local channels in a number of ways, including offering targeted advertising to viewers.
“The main thing we do is make broadcasters more money,” he said.
Long feels strongly that a deal between LocalBTV and the major networks “is inevitable,” citing the millions of people not paying retransmission fees because they have abandoned pay-TV, and don’t use a TV antenna.
“The economics for the majors are overwhelming,” he added.
LocalBTV carries 1,000 channels among the 21 markets it operates in. Didja is aiming to eventually have 13,000 channels in 210 markets across the U.S., according to Long.
Long believes that subscription streaming services that offer one or two broadcast channels can’t provide a suitable replacement for traditional broadcast TV.
“There is no (other) opportunity for the majors,” he said. “Some people think, ‘I’ll just go to Peacock and stream NBC, and Paramount+ for CBS, and Hulu … that’s not going to replace broadcast television.”