Irvine-based Vizio Inc. has launched a free streaming service in an effort to corral cord cutters who have ditched traditional cable services.
The service, dubbed WatchFree, is available on nearly all Vizio SmartCast TVs.
The brand partnered with Los Angeles-based Pluto TV on the new offering, which provides access to more than 100 channels such as NBC News/MSNBC, Fox Sports, Crime Network and The Surf Channel.
Vizio last year added the Google Play Movies & TV app to higher-end models, allowing users to access tens of thousands of new-release movies and next-day TV shows. The brand introduced its latest SmartCast OS with voice support in April, providing access to thousands of apps enabled by Google Chromecast, an add-on device that plugs into the TV and costs about $70.
Vizio has seen smart TV sales in the U.S. slide in the last year amid increased competition and tepid consumer demand industrywide. It generates about $2.5 billion in annual sales.
That tepid demand for TVs is due in large part to the cratering market for broadcast, cable and satellite programming and subscriptions.
ESPN, the sports programmer that commands the most in monthly subscriber fees, lost 500,000 of those $7.21/month subscribers this April alone, and 14 million subscribers over the last six years, according to Business Insider and other industry analysts.
Vizio entered 2018 in jeopardy of losing its long-held No. 2 position in flat-panel TV sales in North America to LG Electronics Inc. in Seoul. Samsung, also based in Seoul, is the perennial No.1 in the category.
Vizo has been the No. 1 seller of sound bar speakers in the U.S. for the last five years.
The company, co-founded by majority-owner William Wang in 2002, is Orange County’s fifth-largest consumer electronics maker with 176 workers through May, down 26.5% year-over-year.
Vizio’s Irvine operation, similar to its others in the U.S. and Mexico, has always run lean, a trademark of its success in the mature North American market.