In the past decade, streaming services have transformed from a luxury afforded by a select few cinephiles into the dominant future of the entertainment industry. Streaming has not only replaced cable, but it’s been replacing movie theaters too; there’s been a crackdown on mid-budget adult entertainment films that aren’t blockbusters because they’ve become more successful on streaming services than in theaters. However, the popularity of the streaming method has led to monthly bills that are beginning to rival cable subscriptions or the cost of seeing multiple movies in theaters. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Disney+, Apple TV+, Paramount+, Peacock, Hulu, Shudder, and the Criterion Channel, viewers are having to pick and choose what new content they can check out based on the services they subscribe to. It’s why many consumers are turning to Tubi, which has been dubbed the “Free Netflix.”

Tubi is a free streaming service that is funded entirely through advertising. While there’s an option to subscribe, it doesn’t require subscriptions to view content, and thus it’s essentially a free library of movies, television shows, concerts, stand-up comedy, documentaries, and shorts. It’s not the only free ad-supported streaming service out there. Services like Crackle, Freevee (previously known as IMDb TV), The Roku Channel, Plex, Xumo, and Pluto TV have also attracted viewers to the emerging format; some larger services have a free, ad-supported tier, such as Peacock and YouTube Movies & TV Shows. However, Tubi’s dominance can be traced to its ownership, content, and library.

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Tubi currently has over 40,000 movies and television shows, and attracts around 51 million users on a monthly basis. The service was originally founded in 2014 and has become the 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, who has continued to promote the platform as its monthly viewership has risen. It has expanded beyond the United States to offer subscriptions in Latin America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. As many viewers weigh their options, the simple annoyance of ad breaks has become more enviable than paying a costly subscription fee.

The Merits Of Tubi

westworld season one episode one the original dolores and teddy james marsden rachel evan wood horses
Image via HBO

Tubi’s obvious draw is the fact that it’s “free,” and compared to other free services the ad breaks are relatively non-intrusive. It’s still awkward to watch movies that weren’t made to incorporate natural breaks randomly cut up with ads, but it’s something that many viewers are used to based on watching movies on cable television. The other draw is that there’s no subscription required, although there is an option to sign in using a social media profile. Tubi is also relatively available on most platforms, as there is a web browser version as well as an app that can be added to smart television devices like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire.

The reason Tubi has become so dominant in comparison to the multitude of other free ad-supported streaming services is the depth of the library. While licensed titles are rapidly cycled out and replaced, viewers can generally find a multitude of classics, foreign language films, new hit films, cult classics, award winners, and the types of low-budget, cheaply produced direct-to-VOD titles that commonly pop up on free services. There’s a fair amount of cheap “garbage cinema” to wade through, but there’s also a plethora of acclaimed titles that at any point could include Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Edward Scissorhands, Robocop, The Babadook, Das Boot, 12 Angry Men, All the President’s Men, and Requiem For A Dream. It’s with this desirable content that Tubi threatens the existence of major leading services like Netflix or HBO Max. If viewers aren’t interested in a service’s original content, they might be willing to cancel their subscription and watch library titles for free.

Although library content drives fewer viewers to a service than originals, it’s becoming an increased commodity when other streaming services are constantly removing both their original and library programming. “Exclusive” has lost its meaning in the streaming era; HBO Max has removed some of the titles made directly for the service, and taken down older Looney Toons cartoons that aren’t available elsewhere due to the racist content. Disney+’s library certainly doesn’t include every Disney title, as some problematic content like Song of the South or the Michael Jackson episode of The Simpsons may never be available. This competition forces services to stick by the integrity of their content libraries, which will ultimately be a good thing for viewers.

Original Content and Licensing

Bruce Willis in the Tubi original, Corrective Measures.

While it hardly produces original material at the speed and with the budget that the major services do, Tubi has begun experimenting with putting out exclusive material. The “originals” tab on Tubi is mostly composed of low-budget, knock-off horror, action, family, crime, and documentary films, but nonetheless these types of projects certainly have their audiences. Occasionally there will be something of note that might catch the eye of an interested cinephile; in 2021, they released Corrective Measures, a low-budget superhero film starring Bruce Willis and Michael Rooker. Prior to his retirement, Willis made dozens of similar low-budget knock off films, but Corrective Measures’ Tubi release is interesting nonetheless.

While there isn’t going to be a huge audience that comes to Tubi for original low budget horror movies like Titanic 666 or Romeo & Juliet Killers, the service may draw more eyeballs with its licensed content. Following the complete reshaping of HBO Max under the new CEO David Zazlav, some original programming has been dumped from the service and licensed to Tubi. Some of the popular, award-nominated titles that are streaming on the service include Westworld, Lovecraft County, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Nevers, and Raised By Wolves.

Tubi is likely never going to chip away at the leading streamers in terms of content or viewership, its existence calls into question what viewers are actually paying their subscriptions for. There’s less reason to subscribe if you’re not interested in the original content, experience a fluctuating library of titles, and have some of your most beloved shows or movies taken off. As subscription prices hike, Tubi can’t be discounted as a factor in how users make their decisions.