ROXi tech to power interactive NextGen TV channels for major US broadcasters

Interactive entertainment company ROXi has marked a significant partnership and expansion for its NextGen TV technology, collaborating with industry body Pearl TV to rollout interactive broadcast TV channel with all major U.S. broadcasters nationwide.

ROXi first debuted its FastStream tech built for ATSC 3.0 (the broadcast technology standard also known as NextGen TV) at CES in January, when it also named Sinclair as a partner for interactive music channels.

Now through a collaboration with Pearl TV, it’s expanding across the group’s eight members representing of the largest U.S. broadcasters including Cox Media, The E.W. Scripps Company, Graham Media, Hearst Television, Nexstar Media Group, Gray Television and Tegna.

In an interview with StreamTV Insider, ROXi CEO Rob Lewis described the response at CES as “quite remarkable.”

“The reaction to the technology we’d built for delivering interactive channels on NextGen TV was well in excess of our expectations,” Lewis said, leading to essentially all major U.S. broadcasters approaching the company with interest, including expanding the tech to other types of programming.

“Ultimately all because everyone’s got the same fundamental issue, which is…the younger viewers are not necessarily that tolerant of turning on a TV channel on a program that’s already started,” or having to watch a TV news segment they’re not interested in, Lewis said. “They want that interactivity, they want to control their media experience.”

ROXi’s tech makes it so that when viewers tune into to in-progress programming, the content automatically starts at the beginning – rather than in the middle – of the broadcast, and enables viewers to pause, rewind, and skip segments.  It’s framing it as a “TikTok-style” for linear TV, where viewers can see short-form segments of live linear broadcasts. And it’s aimed at younger viewers, who broadcasters (and advertisers) want to reach, but represent consumers that aren’t necessarily accustomed to or interested in sitting through TV segments they’re not interested in or not being able to start a program from the spot they want.

Lewis described “buckets” of content that help users navigate to news and other programming segments they want to watch or skip.  For example, below the ongoing feed on screen there would be clickable boxes showing segments, where viewers can click and jump directly to, such as “Headlines,” “National News,” “Local News,” “Investigative,” or “Local Weather” segments.

ROXi, which is backed by Simon Cowell, Kylie Minogue, Sheryl Crow, Robbie Williams and Adam Clayton, is a globally licensed music streaming company with more than 100 million music videos and also has its own music video and karaoke CTV app that is available in the UK and launched in the U.S. in January across major platforms.

Expanding to news, entertainment, sports programming

Interactive music video channels are the first planned for broadcast TV using its FastStream tech. And plans call for interactive channels to expand to include news, entertainment and sports later this year.

According to Lewis, the partnership with Pearl TV means that all broadcaster members will roll out FastStream-powered interactive TV channels, across genres, delivered both nationwide and to local markets.

At the NAB Show in Las Vegas this week ROXi and Sinclair are demoing what they claim is the world’s first interactive news channel for Sinclair’s market in Las Vegas. The demo is of a live channel delivered via over-the-air (OTA) broadcast using ATSC 3.0 and pulling content from Sinclair’s local TV news station Las Vegas 3 CW, as well as syndicated news from The National Desk. Dubbed 3 News Interactive Las Vegas, the partners tout the ROXi-powered channel as “what the future of local TV news will look like,” bringing interactive features found on a CTV apps without the need to download or launch an app, and all delivered using ATSC 3.0.

It’s not the only one rolling out ATSC 3.0 channels, as NBCUniversal on Monday announced the launch of NextGen TV capabilities for six of its owned stations in the U.S.

As for ROXi and Pearl TV, the expectation for broader rollouts is that broadcasters will still air their normal traditional linear broadcast feeds alongside the option to watch an interactive version, according to Lewis. He explained the ROXi-powered channels are initially meant to run in parallel and be additive to existing broadcast programming.

“This new FastStream powered local TV News experience showcases the full interactive capabilities of NextGen TV and shows how broadcasters can deliver exciting new services into homes across the US,” said Skip Flenniken, VP and GM of Technology Business Development for Sinclair, in a statement.

It’s an advancement for NextGen TV, which is the first major overhaul to the broadcast TV standard in nearly 30 years and promises to enable features like HDR broadcast, enhanced on-demand content, theatre-quality audio and others. However, new ATSC 3.0-enabled features and feeds haven’t been quick to surface or be implemented live, and the ability to offer interactive channels could be an opportunity for broadcasters to engage audiences as they face broader viewership and related revenue declines.

“We all agree that it’s imperative we discover new ways to engage viewers, especially younger audiences who are not watching television the same way their parents do,” said Kerry Oslund, VP of Strategy & Business Development for Scripps, in a statement. “This partnership with ROXi allows for an interactive experience that brings new and exciting ways to engage with our audiences.”

In a statement Lewis noted the importance of local TV, with more than 800 local news channels broadcast daily, but pointed to the need for enhancements.

“Despite this, linear delivery of news content by TV Broadcasters has remained largely the same for three quarters of a century, even though the way viewers consume news media has evolved with technological advances,” Lewis stated.

He also cited the speed and responsiveness of of ROXi’s tech, telling STV that on all major TV set it gets video up and playing with the full interactive experience “in a second and a half,” a feat made possible by and requiring “some extremely elegant engineering.”

Accelerating demand for NextGen TV devices

Along with enhancing the viewing experience Lewis said the channels can help accelerate demand for NextGen TV sets.

Sinclair hasn’t launched any channels with ROXi since announcing their partnership in January, so the demo at NAB this week marks the first live channel from the companies.  A roll out to consumers will come later and as more broadcasters come on board. Lewis told STV the plan is to launch a series of nationwide channels, staggered, throughout this year, while also servicing larger local TV news markets with interactive channels.

Part of the strategy behind that is to ensure that consumers have a reason to want a NextGen-supported TV, and if and when they do buy one, that there’s a robust and differentiated broadcast content experience widely available.

“The decision we took with Sinclair and with Pearl is that we wanted to launch all these things in all the markets simultaneously,” Lewis said. “If we want to offer this to the American consumer as a reason why they should buy NextGen TV, we don’t want them buying a NextGen TV and they’re not actually finding it available in their region.”

Expanding CTV share, a challenge to FAST?

In addition to attracting younger audiences, Lewis also pegged interactive channel launches as an opportunity to expand broadcasters’ share of the CTV ad market, which is expected to see growth and reach over $20 billion in 2024, according to Advertisers Perceptions.

He sees the tech helping to attract more ad dollars thanks to increased personalization, including geo-targeting, and more accurate reporting.  

“We hope that it can lead to a significant increase in the level of revenues these local TV channels make” and in time help protect or expand journalistic budgets that support local news.”  On the ROXi side, Lewis affirmed, it’s a revenue share model between ROXi, the broadcaster and content owner.

Pearl TV Managing Director of Broadcast Group Anne Schelle, in a statement, also pointed to growing broadcaster’s CTV share.

Shelle stated, “These new channels on NEXTGEN TV deliver a revolutionary viewing experience to consumers, one which can drive demand for NEXTGEN TVs while allowing ATSC 3.0 broadcasters to expand their market share of the growing connected TV market.”

Broadcasters don’t need to deploy any additional equipment, as ROXi tech ingests video content and is integrated with customers’ IT infrastructure, where once configured into the EPG, the interactive channels essentially run automatically (although can be managed and modified to tailor for specific programming and segments). Viewers do need TV with supported ATSC 3.0 receivers, which are available built-in on select TVs or as accessories by manufacturers including Zinwell, ADTH, Hisense, Siny, Samsung, and later this year TCL.

And while broadcast television has slowly been losing share of TV time in the U.S., per Nielsen’s The Gauge, free TV viewing, including through free ad-supported TV (FAST) channels has been on the rise among U.S. consumers. 

However, Lewis asserted the new capabilities mean NextGen broadcast TV can do a better job than FAST.  In its current state, he said many FAST platforms and services are using technologies and traditional EPGs that he contends mean “they are all totally non-interactive.”

After CES, he said “a light bulb” appeared to go off for many broadcasters and the CEO posited, “perhaps we can get consumers to move form FAST to broadcasts because they’re getting more interactive experience, ironically.”

That said, some broadcasters, such as Scripps and others, have leaned into FAST channels, looking for new avenues to reach viewers with local news, sports and other programming while also seeking CTV ad revenue. In Scripps case it’s also looked to pair OTA with FAST through its Tablo device.

Asked if ROXi’s tech could be extended to broadcasters on FAST, Lewis acknowledged the company “would love to work with some of these smart TV vendors going forward” to help bring more interactive features to FAST. But for now, he said, the initial focus remains squarely on work with major broadcasters to deliver interactive channels via NextGen TV.