The rise of FAST, free ad-supported streaming television

By Alaina Brandenburger

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Streaming television only continues to grow in popularity, overtaking traditional cable in 2022 as the preferred way to watch TV for the first time.

As media companies continue releasing streaming services to compete with one another, consumers have started growing frustrated with having to pay for multiple services to watch their favorite shows. Young viewers, in particular, are more likely to cancel a service when it becomes too expensive or to rotate services.

Subscription fatigue and rising inflation have driven many customers to free ad-supported streaming services, often called FAST platforms. Options like the Roku Channel, Amazon Freevee, PlutoTV, Peacock and Tubi have become big players in the FAST market. These platforms offer large libraries of content and are accessible across multiple devices, making them attractive to cost-conscious consumers.

“The broadcast industry is in a state of transition as it adapts to the new realities of how consumers want to consume content. Traditional linear broadcast is under pressure due to the increasing amount of cord-cutting as consumers shift to more internet-delivered, on-demand services. That said, consumers still have an insatiable appetite for content, and as long as content companies can adapt their delivery models to best meet consumer needs, there will be opportunities for continued industry growth,” said Geoff Stedman, CMO, SDVI.

These services often also have tailored channels based on a particular genre or show, such as the “Hell’s Kitchen” or “Beverly Hills 90210” channel on PlutoTV. This allows networks to reuse existing IP in a new, monetizable way. 

“The need to automate and simplify the delivery and use of long-tail content to ensure maximum efficiencies will become increasingly important. Additionally, cost-effective ways of localizing existing libraries for delivery to new markets will become increasingly important,” said Colin Morrison, head of global sales and business development, VIDA. 

This style of programming also often mimics linear TV, with similar ad breaks and removing the ability to watch any episode that has traditionally accompanied streaming. 

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A survey from Hub Entertainment Research notes 55% of consumers used at least one FAST service in 2022, an increase of nearly 10% over 2021.

At the same time, traditional media companies and platforms are looking for ways to monetize their content without relying solely on FAST. Companies are experimenting with tiered subscription models, offering extra features like offline viewing, exclusive content, and early access to new releases. They are also offering discounts for those who bundle multiple services together, reducing the total cost of the subscription.

As streaming continues to be the preferred way to watch TV, media companies must continue to innovate and meet the needs of their customers.

What is free ad-supported television (FAST)?

Free ad-supported television (FAST) is a form of streaming television in which viewers watch content for free, but viewers must view advertisements in order to do so. FAST services typically host large libraries of content and are accessible across multiple devices, making them attractive to cost-conscious consumers.

FAST is the streaming equivalent of free, local broadcast television stations people can watch without a cable subscription.

Why broadcasters should consider FAST

FAST allows broadcasters to reach over 50 million users. This number continues to grow as consumers look for cheaper ways to meet their entertainment needs. FAST platforms allow broadcasters and content owners to make more money as advertisers increasingly look to support these platforms – estimated by Harmonic at $0.60 to $1 for every hour a consumer watches.  

Ad revenue on these platforms is expected to grow to $9 billion by 2026.

FAST offers your viewers the best of both worlds, letting them access free, yet personalized, programming through a digital platform that works similarly to other streaming services.

Viewers can catch up on their local news and watch daily interest shows on their own time instead of waiting for the scheduled broadcast. Then, once on the platform, viewers can be guided to other programming based on their viewing habits – with deeper analytics than traditional television.

“I believe the management of distribution to FAST platforms will continue to be a key focus. We will see more innovation into improving time-to-market for these channels, which will drive monetization options and enable providers to scale as needed,” said Gatis Gailis, founder and CTO of Veset.

FAST options for broadcasters

At the local level, different options exist to enable the creation of a FAST platform. VUit, which is owned by CBS, partners with local broadcasters to deliver news, weather, and lifestyle programming to viewers.

To enable FAST, broadcasters need a cloud-based channel origination and distribution platform that supports a variety of sources along with a way to sell ad inventory – such as Freewheel or Google Ad Manager. 

However, it’s not as simple as repackaging your typical television broadcast for a FAST platform – or at least consider your audience and what they want to see. Make it easy for the audience to pull up different broadcast segments on demand or to customize their experience. Remember, the sticker the platform, the longer the viewer will stay. 

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“Broadcasters are increasingly harnessing automation-driven solutions to enable seamless content versioning for both full-time channels and live events, allowing them to spin up secondary and tertiary versions of a primary channel for distribution across OTT/FAST platforms — or bring customized, language-tailored coverage of live sports events to diverse cross-platform audiences, maximizing ROI and digital reach,” said Rick Young, SVP, head of global product, LTN

For example, in a traditional news broadcast, a local station might lead with the top stories of the day and tease the forecast to entice people to stick around and watch the rest of the broadcast. For a FAST platform, the station could break the broadcast down and offer each segment on-demand or with additional reporting.
 
Instead of starting the weather segment with a broad overview of potential storms and hazards, start with the forecast and then round it out with supplemental information. That way, anyone who just wants the forecast can watch it on demand.

“While free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) will continue as a hot market trend in 2023, the ability to bring premium live and localized content to FAST services will be essential to attracting viewers at the necessary scale required to make FAST a real revenue game-changer,” added Young.

Join in on the FAST trend

FAST is one of the most steadily growing methods of media consumption as customers look for wallet-friendly alternatives to high-cost cable packages and multiple streaming services.

By tapping into the trend, broadcasters can open themselves up to more ad revenue while producing a product tailored to their local region.

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