March 29 marked the official Opening Day for the 2018 Major League Baseball season. It also marked the launch of TuneIn Premium, a pay sports audio streaming system created by the TuneIn audio stream aggregation platform.
Using TuneIn Premium, listeners can tune to live audio feeds from the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL and other sports, plus hear commercial-free music and news stations (like MSNBC). The price to get this access to major league sports audio is $9.99/month or $99/year.
Plus, TuneIn has worked with Amazon to create voice-controlled access via Amazon’s Alexa web-connected smart speakers. The pay service is branded as TuneIn Live on Alexa (TuneIn Live).
“Voice commands such as ‘Alexa, play the Yankees game;’ ‘Alexa, play the NBA playoffs’ or ‘Alexa, turn on MSNBC’ are all examples of how to try this Alexa-based audio experience,” said Tony Archibong, vice president of distribution and business development.
Amazon Prime members only pay $2.99/month to use TuneIn Live, while the service costs $3.99/month for Amazon members who don’t subscribe to Prime.
Whatever a listener’s preferred connected listening platform, TuneIn has put major league audio streams at sports fans’ beck and call. To whet their appetites, TuneIn offered a free seven-day TuneIn Premium/Live trial at tunein.com.
WHAT IS TUNEIN?
For readers unfamiliar with TuneIn, the website bills itself as “the most popular way to listen to streaming audio from around the world,” according to Archibong. “TuneIn has over 120,000 radio stations and more than 5.7 million on-demand programs stemming from every continent, and is available for free across many connected devices and platforms — from Sonos, Alexa, Google Home, Cortana and Tesla to Bose, Roku and Xbox One. TuneIn also serves as the audio streaming partner for daily fantasy sports providers, such as FanDuel and DraftKings.”
It is TuneIn’s role as a central hub for free streaming audio that has built its listener base — claimed by the company to be about 75 million active users globally. The audio quality, streaming reliability and content variety of TuneIn’s audio streams has built its success since being launched as RadioTime.com in 2002.
HOW TUNEIN ACQUIRED THIS CONTENT
Theoretically, TuneIn could provide a wide range of sports content by simply compiling the broadcast schedules of the sports radio stations it streams. It could then create a web interface and voice-command interface for users to access this schedule.
However, such a model would not provide the 24/7 sports audio on demand that is a feature of the TuneIn platform. Also, it could cause the TuneIn service to run afoul of major sports leagues — and the company has no wish to do this, for obvious reasons.
This is why “TuneIn’s business model involves direct licensing relationships with all of the sports leagues; such as MLB, the NBA, NFL and NHL,” Archibong said. “We license this content under the right to aggregate it all together in our directory as a paid subscription service, which we can then distribute on any streaming platform we choose to create a unique user experience. We do this across mobile apps, our website, speakers, gaming consoles and Alexa.”
DOES TUNEIN PREMIUM THREATEN RADIO?
At first glance, the range of sports content offered by TuneIn’s pay sports audio service appears to pose a threat to conventional radio.
After all, “the common radio user will typically have only local broadcast rights to listen to one local game,” Archibong said. “With TuneIn Live on Alexa, that user gains access to thousands of home and away games across all sports, as well as a selection of premium news and music as well. They are paying for both the vast package, as well as the unique experience.”
He describes this as being a one-stop shop for all things sports — all play-by-play audio for both home and away calls, plus sports talk radio — for the four major professional leagues, plus NCAA basketball and football, racing, tennis and soccer that can’t be found through just a traditional radio in one location.
“Additionally, the ability to use simple voice commands such as ‘Play the Chicago Cubs,’ ‘What NBA games are on?’ or ‘Play sports radio’ to quickly navigate between this large selection of content adds an enhanced ease of use to those Alexa users that would like to listen to a variety of sports audio,” said Archibong. “Lastly, TuneIn Live can provide users team and game schedules when asked, and in the future will be allowing Alexa users to actually set notifications as a reminder for when their favorite games are starting.”
Despite all these features, Archibong doesn’t view TuneIn Premium/Live as a threat to on-air sports radio, or indeed any medium currently carrying live sports content.
“Not at all,” he said. “In fact, we believe this is just another way for true sports fans to enjoy live play-by-play games when they can’t be there in person.” Broadcast radio managers, of course, might see it differently.
WILL SPORTS FANS TUNE IN TO TUNEIN?
At this point, it is difficult to predict or assess TuneIn Premium/Live’s impact on sports media consumption. For its part, TuneIn won’t project how many paying customers it hopes to capture via TuneIn Premium/Live, or how many people will be using Alexa to access its sports audio streams.
“We aren’t disclosing our metrics for Alexa specifically, but we are thrilled with the growth we’ve seen across all of our platform and distribution partners,” Archibong said. “In fact, we have more than 200 connected device and auto partners, and TuneIn users have listened to more than one billion hours of music, sports, news and talk programming on the service in the last 12 months within the speaker category alone.”
Meanwhile, TuneIn “is definitely open to working with other [smart speaker] platforms on extending this content to them in the future,” he added.
One way or another, pay sports audio via TuneIn will become even more accessible to consumers in the months ahead. Just how many will pay for this content remains to be seen.