Struum thinks people will pay for free TV content

The logo of streaming television service Strumm. (Logo courtesy Strumm, Graphic by The Desk)

A new streaming service backed by well-known television executives is getting a lot of media buzz for putting a new spin on an old concept: Convincing people to pay for content that they can get for free somewhere else.

The service, called Struum, recently announced it would launch with a limited preview window on Apple’s iOS platform with content licensed from around three different program distributors.

Struum is generating significant media attention for two reasons: It was launched and developed by a team of well-known executives within the entertainment industry, including alumni of Discovery and the Walt Disney Company, and is being bankrolled by former Disney chief executive Michael Eisner’s investment firm Tornante Company. Eisner has already injected a few million dollars into the idea, according to some reports.

Beyond its well-known management team and deep-pocketed sugar daddy, Struum has little else going for it. The company’s sole mission involves bundling third-party content from licensed services, then locking it behind a subscription-based paywall.

In an interview with a trade publication in January, executives said the cost of a subscription would likely hover around $10 a month. In turn, subscribers would get around 100 “credits,” which they could spend unlocking episodes of whatever shows they wanted to watch.

Executives said they would eventually work out the details of how much to charge for a program down the road, and would split its earnings with content providers.

Those providers include some recognizable brands like Cheddar News, Tastemade, Now This and Magnolia Pictures, but mostly consist of smaller, independent companies like Shout Factory, Cinedigm and Magellan TV.

Executives admit Struum is intended to help smaller content distributors gain brand awareness by offering access to their shows through a single, subscription-based app. Courting those content providers seems like it was an easy task, because Struum’s attention seems fully focused on offering a good experience for them, and not necessarily for its future subscribers.

“The big guys have the money and all they need to fight with one another, but there’s still a lot of content producers out there in need of that support because their content is good if not better than what the bigger companies have,” Nancy Tellem, an investor in Struum, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “I like that Struum is in the position to support the little guys.”

The company has yet to release details on which shows will be offered through the service, but some of the more-recognizable brands named this week as content partners already distribute thousands of shows and movies through other streamers, including free ones like Xumo, Pluto TV and the Roku Channel. Others, like TasteMade and Now This, distribute content clips on their own through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. (A few partners, including Echoboom Sports and Magellan TV, do charge for access to their content through independent offerings.)

Which raises the question: Will subscribers fork over cash to watch niche content on a pay-per-view basis, when some of that same content is available without cost on other services? Struum certain believes it has a winning strategy, but time will tell if it strikes a chord with streamers.