Since January, according to Xumo, its user base has soared 2.5 times to reach more than 24 million U.S. monthly active users. Total hours streamed over that period more than doubled, Xumo says. It’s the latest salvo in the secondary front on the streaming wars: free ad-supported services with premium content, variously referred to in the biz as AVOD (ad-supported video on demand) or FAST (free ad-supported TV).
The battle among subscription-streaming players like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, Prime Video and HBO Max gets most of the attention. But the free streamers have been growing even faster, which has accelerated under the aegis of large media conglomerates.
Tubi, acquired by Fox Corp. this year, says monthly active users reached 33 million in August 2020 – up 65% year over year. Pluto TV had 26.5 million MAUs as of the end of June, up 61% from the year prior, per ViacomCBS. Other notable players in the category include the Roku Channel, NBCU’s Peacock and Amazon’s IMDb TV.
For Xumo, a big part of the viewership surge this year undoubtedly is related to the COVID pandemic, as millions of Americans have been quarantined at home, CEO Colin Petrie-Norris acknowledged. But he also attributed Xumo’s growth to expanded content, new distribution partners, and a deeper integration of Xumo’s on-demand catalog with parent Comcast Cable’s Xfinity X1 and Flex, which resulted in a nearly 40% increase in viewing sessions on the X1 pay-TV and Flex broadband-only platforms.
“For Comcast to decide this is a space worth investing in is real validation,” Petrie-Norris said. “If anything we have been busier than we’ve ever been.”
Comcast acquired Xumo in February 2020, reportedly paying more than $100 million for the streamer from previous owners Panasonic and Meredith Corp. Xumo remains based in Irvine, Calif., with nearly 60 employees. It operates as a unit of Comcast Cable, overseen by Rebecca Heap, Comcast Cable’s senior VP of video and entertainment services.
Petrie-Norris said Xumo’s platform and broad variety of content partners — now numbering around 200 — give it a profile that’s similar to the Comcast Cable video business. “In terms of DNA, there are many similarities in what we are trying to do and the Comcast video business,” he said.
Xumo and the other free streamers have been booming, while subscription VOD services also have been surging. Where is the growth coming from? The loser has been traditional pay-TV: Note that Comcast’s residential TV subs totaled about 19.5 million at the end of the second quarter of 2020 — shedding 1.17 million over a 12-month period.
In that context, Comcast’s purchase of Xumo is a counterweight to cord-cutting as the cable giant’s broadband customer base continues to grow.
“We have really resonated with cord cutters,” Petrie-Norris said. “We see a number of people who are using us as their primary TV service, for news, kids shows and entertainment. We’re easy to get to. We don’t even require registration.”
So far in 2020, Xumo has expanded its distribution footprint to 75% of connected TV devices with the addition of Sony and Panasonic smart TVs. It also has added new marquee channels featuring content from BeIn Sports Xtra and America’s Test Kitchen, and more than doubled its on-demand library of free movies to over 10,000 titles through pacts with Relativity Media and Broad Green Pictures and A24 coming on board soon.
Today, Xumo offers over 200 digital channels of free premium programming across 12 genres, including sports, news, kids and family entertainment, live events, comedy, lifestyle and movies. Like Pluto TV, Xumo presents its channels in a live, linear-TV-style format, in addition to its VOD lineup. Content on Xumo includes ABC News Live, Fox Soul, Deal or No Deal, NBC News Now, Black News Channel, Antiques Roadshow U.K. and the PGA Tour.
“What we’ve been able to offer is unique and complementary to other platforms,” said Petrie-Norris. If you don’t have an appointment to watch something like ‘The Mandalorian,’ we serve a broad array of interests. Xumo provides that serendipity, where people can always find something to watch.”
Xumo and Xumo-powered applications are available for free on devices and platforms including iOS, Android and Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and connected TVs from Hisense, LG, Magnavox, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sanyo, Sony and Vizio.
Meanwhile, the AVOD/FAST battleground also is heating up overseas. In addition to the U.S., Xumo operates in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the U.K., France, Germany and Spain.