A request made for years by military members and commanders is finally coming true – American Forces Network is launching an app that will offer video-on-demand and live streaming services.
The new app, called AFN Now, will launch this fall. As more service members consume their programming through apps, Defense Media Business officials said it makes sense to adapt to the times.
“If we’re going to give our commanders the proper space where the audience is, we have to be where the audience is,” said Michael Drumheller, director of the AFN’s broadcast center. “This is an option that members of the public have requested in the past, and we are now able to provide.”
So what sets this app apart from the rest, besides being free for eligible downloaders? Officials say content will include short pauses for important ordering information — not advertisements.
“[Users] can already get their own music. They can already get their own entertainment, but they can’t get career information. They can’t get information about their local community, and that’s what we provide that no one else can,” said Erik Brazones, an AFN operations policy officer.
As the app grows, the developers plan to dynamically tailor ads to specific audiences to better serve them. For example, if there were to be a major change in the Air Force Senior NCO Corps, this information could be disseminated specifically to Air Force Senior NCOs who registered on the app. . Those who are not Air Force NCOs would not see this message because it does not apply to them.
“It will give them situational awareness, and that’s where we want this app to go. We want it to be an indispensable source of information for them,” Brazones said. “We want to make sure that the information we provide is just as important and just as beneficial as the entertainment.”
Another benefit is that the app will give the service a better idea of what people are watching.
“[Our programming] is based on current Nielsen ratings in the US in our demographic, but if we have better information about what people are watching in volume – as we will through AFN Now – we can adjust that to give people that they want,” Drumheller said.
Like many other streaming services, the app will feature news, sports, primetime scripted content, late night and daytime shows and movies. Officials said overseas video programming rights are tightly controlled, so AFN Now will have around 90-95% of the content offered on its satellite service. It will be presented in what they call a “rolling five” type format.
“It’s kind of an ongoing catch-up service,” said Kareem Lowe, director of television for the AFN Broadcast Center. “That is, episodes one through five – once episode six premieres, episode one will drop.”
Programming from Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, National Hockey League, NASCAR and IndyCar will be available for on-demand viewing. Lowe said the app hopes to get participation from the National Football League, National Basketball Association and the Ultimate Fighting Championship before the app’s launch, or soon after.
Like other AFN services, only military personnel, their families, and retirees living overseas will be able to access AFN Now. Defense officials said the entertainment industry has been very generous with its support of the AFN since World War II, but the Department of Defense must do its part to ensure only eligible people have access to content.
“Media is an expensive proposition…so we have to make sure we don’t take customers away from them,” Brazones said of the entertainment industry. “We want to make sure that we support our entertainment partners as fervently as they support us, and we do that by making sure that we restrict access only to DOD audiences.”
Eligible customers will be able to create an authenticated free account in the same way that many other DOD services are set up, including set-top boxes for AFN’s satellite service.
“They will enter their identification or data on our website, and that will then be checked against the Defense Enrollment Eligibility and Reporting System, DEERS,” Brazones said. Parents will also be able to approve their children’s ability to have an account this way.
The application, which took three years to develop, is currently being tested internally. Drumheller said they hope to open it up to members of the public in the Pacific for a pilot test, possibly by August.
The app ties into AFN’s satellite service and its radio app, AFN Go, which was rolled out in 2012 as AFN 360 but was rebranded in March after several improvements suggested by the public. On-demand audio and a podcast feature are also expected to be added to AFN Go this fall.
AFN Now will be downloadable through Apple, Google, gaming devices and smart TVs.