Is Tubi really the free Netflix?

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The Big Picture

  • Streaming services have become the main form of entertainment, replacing cable and even movie theaters.
  • Tubi is a free streaming service that offers a wide range of movies, TV shows, concerts and more, attracting millions of monthly users.
  • Tubi’s extensive library and desirable content, including classic westerns and cult horror movies, make it a strong competitor to major streaming services such as Netflix and HBO Max.

In the last ten years, streaming services have transformed from a luxury that brought a few select films to the dominant future of the entertainment industry. Not only has streaming replaced cable, but it has also been replacing movie theaters. There has been a craze about mid-budget adult entertainment films not being blockbusters because they have become more successful on streaming services than in theaters. This summer’s box office failures point to further downturns in the market. However, the popularity of the streaming method has led to monthly bills that are beginning to compete with cable subscriptions or the cost of seeing several movies in theaters. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Disney+, Apple TV+, Paramount+, Peacock, Hulu, Shudder, and the Criterion Channel, viewers have to pick and choose which new content they can check out based on on the services they accept. That’s why many users turn to Tubi, known as “Netflix for free”.

What is Tubi?

Photo via Tubi

Tubi is a free ad-supported streaming service. Although there is an option to subscribe, it is no subscriptions are required to view content. It’s basically a free library of movies, television shows, concerts, stand-up comedy, documentaries and shorts. This isn’t the only supported free streaming service out there. Services like Crackle, Freevee (formerly IMDb TV), The Roku Channel, Plex, Xumo, and Pluto TV have also attracted viewers to the emerging format; some larger services, such as Peacock and YouTube Movies & TV Shows, have ad-supported free streaming. However, Tubi’s dominance can be traced to ownership, content and library.

Tubi currently has over 50,000 movies and TV shows, and attracts around 74 million users every month. The service was first established in 2014 and has been home to licensed content from other distributors, and in 2019 the spending budget rose to $100 million. Tubi was bought by the Fox Corporation in 2020, which has continued to promote the platform as its monthly viewers have increased. It has expanded beyond the United States to offer memberships in Latin America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. As many viewers weigh their options, the simple temptation of ad breaks has become more desirable than paying a costly subscription fee.

Tubi has also been experimenting with new technology that allows it to serve its monthly active viewers. The service launched the Rabbit AI software which providing recommendations to users based on their previous history on the service. The advanced search options use a more complex range of terms than just a movie name or cast; it allows Tubi to tailor its recommendations based on what a viewer might be interested in.

Tubi users do not need to subscribe

Tubi’s obvious appeal is that it’s “free,” and compared to other free services, the ad breaks are relatively indistinguishable. It’s still weird watching movies that weren’t made to include random natural breaks with commercials, but it’s something many viewers are used to based on watching movies on cable television. Another draw is that no membership is required, although there is an option to sign in using a social media profile. Tubi is also available on most platforms, as it has a web browser version as well as an app that can be added to smart TV devices such as Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire.

Tubi has become an increasingly lucrative option for movie fans now that many of the mainstream streaming services have raised their prices. Max, Prime Video, Disney+, and Apple TV+ raised their monthly fees in 2023, and Netflix abandoned its basic plan entirely after a controversial password-sharing crackdown. Now that even services like Prime Video include ad-supported tiers, there’s not much that differentiates them from Tubi.

Tubi’s Movie and TV Library is extensive

Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate
Photo via Warner Bros.

The depth of the library is the reason why Tubi has been so dominant compared to the number of other free streaming services supported. While licensed titles are quickly rotated and replaced, viewers will generally find plenty of classics, foreign language films, new blockbusters, cult classics, award winners, and the types of titles that just- low-budget, cheaply produced to-VOD. Usually pop up on free services. However, Tubi has made a name for itself by being a reliable distributor of classic westerns, cult horror movies, and “so bad they’re good” movies that don’t often appear on other services. Over 600 episodes of the original version Doctor Who the series made its debut on Tubi after becoming unavailable for streaming elsewhere.

While there is a fair amount of cheap “junk cinema” to wade through, there are also plenty of reputable titles that could pop in at any time. The Shawshank Redemption, Requiem for a Dream, Inglorious Basterds, The Mask, The Gameand full franchises like Afternoon and Different. It is with this desirable content that Tubi threatens the existence of major services such as Netflix or HBO Max. Titles like You have mail or The Devil’s Advocate it won’t stay on Tubi forever, but there’s no guarantee that non-original titles will stay on Netflix or Max either. If viewers aren’t interested in a service’s original content, they will be they may be willing to cancel their subscription and view library titles for free. The elimination of popular shows in 2023 has made “library content” even more important for services to win the “streaming wars”.

There is no such thing as “Special” in the streaming era

Wile E. Coyote looking worse for wear in the Looney Tunes short
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

While library content drives fewer viewers to the service than originals, it’s becoming a bigger commodity when other streaming services are constantly taking away both the original program and the library. “Exclusive” has lost its meaning in the streaming era. Max has removed some of the titles made directly for the service, and brought them down older Looney Toons cartoons that are not available elsewhere due to controversial and offensive content. Max canceled the finished family movie Coyote vs. Acme suggesting that even projects shepherded by the service are not safe from removal. Max is not the only service that has upset content creators, as Disney + has drawn criticism from its creative partners after original programs such as Willow be removed from service. Even when you look beyond the originals, the Disney + library certainly does not include all Disney titles, as some problematic content such as Song of the South or the Michael Jackson program of The Simpsons it may never be available.

If viewers can’t subscribe to a service with the confidence of having everything available to them, services like Tubi will benefit. Netflix has even scrapped its DVD rental program, making it more challenging for users to find certain titles. Tubi viewers don’t use the service with the assumption that content will be there forever, but the lack of a subscription fee requirement means that users aren’t signing up for a service that could potentially contain the original content. can be deleted at any time.

Tubi also licenses and produces original content

Bruce Willis in the original Tubi, Corrective Measures.

Although he’s barely producing original material at the pace and budget that the major services do, Tubi has begun to experiment with putting out great material. The “original” tab on Tubi mostly consists of low-budget horror, action, family, crime and documentary films, but these projects definitely have their audience. Sometimes, there is something interesting that might catch the eye of an interested cinephile. In 2021, they released Corrective measuresa low-budget superhero movie starring Bruce Willis and Michael Rooker. Before retiring, Willis made dozens of similar low-budget films, but Corrective measures‘ Tubi’s release is interesting though.

Although low budget horror movies like Titanic 666 free or Romeo & Juliet Killers, the service can attract more eyes with its licensed content. After a complete redesign of HBO Max under the new CEO David Zazlav, some original programs were dumped from the service and licensed to Tubi. Some of the popular, award-nominated titles streaming on the service include Westworld, Lovecraft County, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Raised by wolves. Tubi even featured episodes of the original fantasy series Max The Navy after the show was canceled before the completion of its first season.

It looks like Tubi will never lag behind the mainstream in terms of content or viewership. However, its existence raises the question of who viewers are actually paying their subscriptions to. There’s less reason to subscribe if you’re not interested in the original content, experience a changing library of titles, and tune in to some of your favorite shows or movies. As subscription prices rise, Tubi cannot be discounted as a factor in how consumers make their decisions.

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