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U.K. AVOD Service W4Free Launches, With Sky Handling Ad Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

Stewart Clarke

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A new player has joined the streaming fray in the U.K., with Video Solutions launching new ad-supported service W4Free and Comcast-owned Sky on board to handle its advertising sales. W4Free’s British rollout follows that of a sister service, Watch4, in German-speaking markets, and comes as the likes of Pluto and Tubi have been in the headlines of late with their own AVOD launches.

W4Free and Watch4 are operated by Video Solutions, the content and tech business run by Chris Sharp, a seasoned international channels executive. He was a co-founder of Zone Media, which was sold to Liberty Global, and then chief programming officer in London for Chello Zone and AMC Networks U.K.

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“The U.K. service has a mix of short-form and series content, and we’ll be adding movies soon,” Sharp told Variety. “There has never been so much great content in the market. We are offering a free TV service, but across all devices – laptops, phones, and connected TVs.”

Sharp said the W4Free team is in acquisition mode, looking for new shows. Thus far it has deals with companies such as Barcroft Studios and Kew Media’s TCB.

The Video Solutions team, which is led by CEO Philipp Rotermund, said the German-language service, which spans Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, is attracting more than 10 million users a month. The privately held company has more launch plans in the works. “Being in two of Europe’s big five markets is a good start, and we’re looking at more expansion opportunities,” Sharp said.

As with the subscription-service sector, the AVOD market is getting crowded. In the U.K., recent SVOD launches include BritBox, the ITV- and BBC-backed “best of British” platform. In the ad-supported market, Rakuten TV is among those with new offerings for the country.

Sky will handle ad sales for W4Free but has no stake in the service.

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