Television audiences have more viewing choices than ever before as media companies develop new ways to reach them on every kind of screen. For Tegna, one of the biggest owners of TV stations in the United States, the ongoing growth in media consumption is driving investments in technology. That effort includes ad-based video on demand (AVOD) services to deliver content wherever and whenever people are watching.

The company recently unveiled AVOD apps for True Crime Network, whose programming consists of nonfiction shows about criminal investigations, to extend its reach among a wider variety of connected devices.

The release of the apps is the latest sign of how Tegna is expanding content distribution after acquiring Justice Network and its sister multicast network Quest from Cooper Media last year for $77 million. Tegna last month re-branded Justice Network as True Crime Network to launch the first 24-hour channel of crime documentaries.

“Since we’ve been acquired by Tegna, we’ve accomplished things that we always wanted to accomplish,” Brian Weiss, the president and general manager of True Crime Network and Quest at Tegna, said in this interview with Beet.TV. Before the acquisition by Tegna, Weiss was part of the launch team for the networks.

With the support of Tegna, which was formed when Gannett split into two companies in 2015, True Crime Network now has apps that put the ad-supported channel on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast devices.

The network will soon be available on Roku, the over-the-top platform that has 31 million active accounts. In addition, True Crime Networks has a free website that streams video to any web browser, along with apps for iOS and Android devices.

The rollout of its AVOD platform comes as more people watch streaming video on free, ad-supported services like Tubi, Pluto TV, Xumo and NBCUniversal’s recently launched Peacock. Disney’s Hulu also has an ad-supported tier with a lower subscription fee than its ad-free service. With millions of people stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, AVOD activity nearly doubled between March and April, according to streaming guide ReelGood.

OTT Is Great, But Don’t Forget OTA

True Crime Network is somewhat unusual in distributing programming through over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts, while also streaming on-demand programming through its apps. Households with a high-definition (HD) antenna can see the network in markets where Tegna’s stations broadcast an HDTV signal.

Weiss sees an opportunity for advertisers to reach those audiences, an often overlooked segment that has doubled in size in the past five years.

“When we started the Justice Network in 2015, only 10% of households were using an over-the-air antenna as a primary viewing source,” he said. “Now, that number is just under 20%.”

Another 15% of households have an HD antenna, even if they don’t use it as their primary way to watch TV, according to Nielsen data cited by Weiss.

Ad Sales Strategy

True Crime Network plans to expand ad sales, starting first with programmatic efforts though SpotX. When audience growth becomes clearer, the network will expand its sales push through Premion, Tegna’s in-house platform for CTV and OTT sales, Weiss said.

True Crime Network will have about four to five ad breaks during an hour-long show, comparable with linear TV. Each break will be one to two minutes long, and the network doesn’t plan to show pre-roll ads. Instead, shows will run for seven to eight minutes to lure viewers into the narrative.

The true crime genre is appealing to an affluent, well educated female audience that many advertisers want to reach, considering that women make 70%-80% of consumer purchase decisions in the U.S. In addition, the genre hooks audiences into watching for extended periods to see how criminal investigations are resolved. The watch time rivals that of live sports, Weiss said.

“You have this enormous, passionate audience that really stays through ads because they feel that they can’t leave,” he said.