Redbox has entered the ad-supported streaming market with the launch of Redbox Free Live TV. The company, best known for its DVD rental kiosks, has been dabbling with streaming for years as consumer demand for DVD rentals has simultaneously declined. But despite its name, Redbox’s new streaming service isn’t offering “live TV” similar to what you’d get on a TV streaming service like YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV. Instead, the new service offers a curated set of ad-supported movies and TV shows, similar to The Roku Channel, IMDb TV or TiVo Plus, for example.
This free content is organized into channels, including those from brands like TMZ, USA Today, Fail Army, Now This, FilmRise, batteryPOP, Filmhub, Food52 and others. Redbox has also put together its own thematic groupings, like Redbox Comedy, Redbox Rush and Redbox Spotlight, to help users discover what to watch. While some of the titles will come and go due to content deals, there will be something available to watch at any time — just like there is with live television.
In total, there are nearly 30 channels, including the three Redbox exclusives. The company plans to launch 10 additional channels per month.
The service, which began rolling out last week, expands on Redbox’s earlier efforts in streaming, known as Redbox on Demand. Launched publicly in 2017, Redbox on Demand is the company’s online marketplace for movies and TV for rental and purchase. Those titles can then be saved in your Redbox On Demand library and watched on a compatible smart TV, media streaming device, PC, tablet or phone. They also can be cast to a TV by way of AirPlay, Chromecast, Miracast or Screencast.
Redbox Free Live TV, meanwhile, is currently available on iPhone, iPad and Android devices, in addition to the web and some smart TVs and media players. However, the company says the service is “only available to a select audience” at this time, but will soon be offered nationwide. (Perhaps as soon as this week.)
Like other free, ad-supported streaming services on the market, Redbox Free Live TV doesn’t require users to subscribe, but instead runs commercial breaks as a means of generating revenue.
For rivals like Roku, ad-supported streaming has performed well. The Roku Channel grew to 56 million users in 2019, and is now one of the U.S.’s top three ad-supported services, the company revealed in last week’s earnings.
But Roku benefits from also operating the platform where The Roku Channel resides — meaning it can promote the channel’s content through Roku’s own built-in search feature, navigational menus and elsewhere. Redbox, meanwhile, is hoping to transition customers interested in physical media rentals to digital rentals, and now to free streaming. It’s a much harder sell.
On top of that, the content on Redbox Free Live TV is fairly niche — news and entertainment, but limited to older shows and movies, for the most part, along with content from digital brands.
Redbox shared a statement about the service’s launch, after initially declining to comment:
Redbox is always exploring ways to bring more content and value to consumers. We’ve begun offering free live streaming movies and TV to a subset of consumers via our website and mobile app, with plans to roll it on more devices in the coming days and weeks. Redbox believes that the future of entertainment is dynamic and consists of the right mix of live and video content, and that’s why we’re building this new ecosystem of free content. The offering complements our new-release kiosk and On-Demand offering with ad-supported catalog content, driving new entertainment occasions, while also providing new ways for Redbox to promote the brand outside of our network.
Redbox Free Live TV is available via redbox.com and the Redbox app for Roku, iPhone, Apple TV, Android devices, VIZIO SmartCast TVs and LG Smart TVs.
Updated 2/17/20, 4 PM ET with Redbox’s statement. Updated 2/19/20 to link to official launch news.
Update: Two days after publication of this article, Redbox officially announced the launch of the live TV service. Added information about supported platforms and future plans.