Industry Insights: Navigating the FAST landscape – challenges and opportunities for broadcasters

By NewscastStudio

We delve into the evolving landscape of free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) as seen through the lens of key players in the broadcast vendor and supplier sectors in our latest Industry Insights roundtable.

This roundtable discussion explores the impact of FAST’s rising popularity on product offerings, strategies for leveraging personalization to enhance viewer experiences, the challenges providers face in maintaining quality and relevance and the innovations driving the future of broadcasting.

Join us as we uncover the insights and strategies shaping the FAST ecosystem in a rapidly changing digital landscape.


Key takeaways from the Industry Insights roundtable

  • FAST platforms are using personalization and innovative features like AI-powered scheduling to differentiate services and content experiences for viewers.
  • Monetization and advertising remain challenging in emerging markets with insufficient audience size and inventory. Accessibility and discoverability are also barriers.
  • Ensuring scalability and reliability means leveraging cloud infrastructure, efficient content delivery networks, thorough testing and monitoring, and building in redundancy and resiliency.
  • Global expansion requires localizing and adapting content, using technologies like automated dubbing and subtitling to unlock wider audiences.
  • Innovations like virtual channel playout, automated scheduling, and improved live streaming capabilities are being driven by the demands of FAST.

How is the increasing popularity of FAST shaping the streaming landscape? And more specifically your product offerings?

Josh Pine, CRO, XL8: FAST has changed the streaming landscape by providing a broad wealth of content that is free to the end user. It’s like old traditional antenna TV watching, but with thousands of channels, hundreds of genres, and content quality ranging from Hollywood “tentpole” title content to user generated content, and everything in between. However, all this content needs to be updated for compliance purposes, such as ADA captions, and also needs to be localized for multi-language usage both domestically and internationally.

Venugopal Iyengar, COO for digital, Planetcast: The emergence of FAST as an important revenue stream in some markets is making content owners put more effort into differentiating for the FAST experience. It’s also making the FAST platforms think more in-depth about the differentiated content experiences they can bring to their viewers. We ourselves are working with several content owners out of India and the rest of Asia and Brazil to bring differentiated content such as this. These offerings are not just from broadcasters but also from independents and digital-first creators.

Yoann Hinard, COO, Witbe: FAST is free with channels typically displayed prominently in the home menu of smart TVs, making it a major new contender in the ongoing fight for viewership. For content providers embracing FAST, it provides a great opportunity to have their programming seen by more people outside of subscription-based viewing. For paid TV and SVOD providers, however, FAST offers direct competition for content discoverability and another challenge in accurately indexing content on consumer platforms.

Paolo Cuttorelli, SVP of global sales, Evergent: The rise of FAST is reshaping the streaming landscape by providing viewers with free access to a diverse range of niche, high-quality content. This trend aligns with our focus on helping media companies harness data to enable more personalized, customer-centric, and profitable monetization strategies. Our products help content owners manage the complexities of mixed revenue models while tapping into real-world consumer insight to inform effective acquisition, cross-selling and retention strategies.

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Paul Calleja, CEO, GlobalM: The surging popularity of FAST is reshaping the streaming landscape by fostering a demand for scalable, reliable solutions across all touchpoints. GlobalM’s software-defined video network connects cloud contribution services with high-demand FAST workflows. It can scale to multiple takers, allowing one stream source pod to expand to multiple stream destination pods, all with their own unique stream URI for each destination.

John Wastcoat, SVP of business development, Zixi: The FAST sector is experiencing rapid growth and the industry is quickly adapting to this market segment to help capture the new monetization opportunities. In this highly competitive environment vendors need to create tools that do more with less allowing the streaming platforms to maximize their return on investment and increase the monetization of their content with fewer resources.

Gatis Gailis, CEO, Veset: The popularity, availability and on-demand nature of FAST channels has significantly altered the way content providers develop their solutions, with linear TV becoming less and less frequent in the homes of current consumers. Due to this change in landscape, our cloud playout solutions need to be modified and re-evaluated in order to stay relevant. As a result, our solutions have become almost entirely consumer orientated with a focus on monetization and personalization.

Paul Briscoe, chief architect, TAG Video Systems: FAST is rapidly increasing the choice of content for consumers, and accordingly bringing many new and existing service providers to the technology. In our case, FAST is a use case of OTT which TAG fully supports. Additional capabilities related to audience metrics are being added to enrich FAST applications.

Anupama Anantharaman, VP of product management, Interra: Within the streaming landscape, FAST is not only driving transformations in consumer behavior, but also innovations in ad insertion, data monetization, and more. At Interra Systems, we’ve responded with technologies like channel quality monitoring — which ensures ad marker integrity throughout the encode, transcode, and playlist preparation stages — and data analytics, while incorporating the most recent SCTE standards. For our customers, the result is the ability to stream video at the highest possible quality. 

Dave Dembowski, SVP of global sales, Operative: FAST combines the big screen experience of TV with the targeting, agility and measurement capabilities of digital advertising technology. Advertisers are embracing FAST in order to reach key audiences and expect their media partners to deliver at every level. Streaming media companies need to be able to assemble products that meet advertisers’ needs, deliver and report on campaigns with speed, scale and performance.

Rick Young, SVP and head of global products, LTN: First, as FAST streaming services continue to grow in popularity, media organizations more broadly are layering in ad-supported models throughout their business models to include ad-supported options. Second, expectations are growing from consumers in terms of what is expected from those services in terms of fresh and, more importantly, live programming on those channels. LTN has squarely focused our technologies on enabling channel and content creators to efficiently, with great scale, integrate valuable live programming, often sports, into all platforms with the required flexibility in delivering customizable ad triggers across a wide array of paths to consumers.

Greg Morrow, GM of ViewNexa, Bitcentral: FAST services are becoming increasingly popular at a time when resources and budgets are tighter than ever before, meaning media companies need to have the right technology in place that can deliver mass reach and flexible monetization at low cost. In 2023, ViewNexa by Bitcentral was launched to drive business success in the FAST landscape. ViewNexa empowers media organizations to set up for success through seamless live-stream integration and an extensive distribution network. 

Eric Black, CTO/GM of media, Edgio: FAST is becoming an increasingly popular viewing option as consumers look for affordable access to high quality, lean-back content experiences. Edgio’s Uplynk streaming solution has delivered FAST channels since its inception over a decade ago — it’s always been a part of our offering. We also recently announced a FAST syndication partnership with Wurl to enable customers to easily generate linear channels and distribute them via Wurl’s global FAST network.

Srini KA, co-founder and CRO, Amagi: FAST has been well accepted by viewers in the North American market. While it is getting traction in the European market, emerging markets are also showcasing accelerated adoption with more TV channels across genres being launched. We expect more premium and live channels to be launched with an increased focus on news and sports.

What are the primary challenges faced by FAST providers?

Medhat Ali, director, VM Cloud: FAST providers face the primary challenge of delivering high-quality content cost effectively, meeting audience expectations for 4k and HDR. At the same time, they must balance advertising revenue with user experience, manage content licensing costs and contend with competition from subscription-based platforms.

Ahmed Swidan, director, Ateme: The main challenge for FAST platforms is to aggregate content and offer a more personalized FAST service. Ateme is preparing for this future by offering a personal channels solution with advanced monetization capabilities.

Yoann Hinard, COO, Witbe: FAST is a complicated technology, and providers have to deliver it across a multitude of devices running on different operating systems, all while also dealing with dynamic ad insertion. These different operating systems are also updated very frequently, which is entirely out of the provider’s control but requires them to ensure their service still works with each new version. Furthermore, every region in which the provider airs their FAST service requires localized content and channels with different language and captioning options, all while adhering to shifting local regulations.

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Olivier Karra, marketing director, Broadpeak: Outside of leading markets, selling inventory proves to be challenging for certain content providers and publishers. In general, advertisers need a minimum inventory to reach their targeted audiences. In many cases, FAST channels that do not have sufficient audiences are not attractive enough for brands and agencies who want to advertise on connected TV’s . Accessibility, discoverability, and fidelity can also be limiting factors.

Paolo Cuttorelli, SVP of global sales, Evergent: Media companies are looking for increased profitability from FAST channels. To address these challenges, content providers need to deploy more inventive and flexible monetization strategies that are driven by high-quality data analytics. Gaining a deeper understanding of user preferences and viewing habits enables businesses to engage consumers with individualized offers or upselling opportunities, increasing platform loyalty and enhancing revenue potential.

Paul Briscoe, chief architect, TAG Video Systems: Content is one of the biggest challenges. Today content is king, not the service or provider. Many migrants to FAST will need to offer compelling content to draw viewers who, in the FAST era, can graze and change “channels” freely. Matching that content to viewer interest will be the key.

Dave Dembowski, SVP of global sales, Operative: First, they need to be able to meet advertiser demand as they are growing their own business, which requires an agile sales team, access to a unified product catalog and seamless operations. Second, FAST advertising technology is evolving quickly, and publishers need to keep up in order to stay competitive. Having cloud-based partners with integrations into the top technology providers in the ecosystem helps FAST media companies move quickly and effectively.

Rick Young, SVP and head of global products, LTN: FAST providers are wrestling with the challenges of achieving scale for their content, while also securing flexibility and efficiency amidst a fragmented marketplace. Doing more with less is the reality for many and the cost of integrating technology to do all of this is not feasible. To address the challenge, it makes business sense to move to a managed services model that delivers real business outcomes and improves cost-efficiencies without going beyond the cost parameters while being able to reliably launch new services and explore new business models.

Srini KA, co-founder and CRO, Amagi: Competing for viewers against the wider number of FAST channels is the key challenge faced by FAST providers. Channel discovery and thus monetization become key decision factors in surviving in the industry.

How is the global expansion of FAST services being managed?

Josh Pine, CRO, XL8The U.S. has had a multiple year lead on FAST expansion compared to the rest of the world. In some countries U.S. platforms have easily set up shop, but other countries can prove challenging, whether government regulations/restrictions, lack of adequate local technology, legal and licensing issues, etc. But one of the biggest challenges for expanding globally is the ability to localize content quickly, and at cost levels that make sense for lower individual territory ROI’s.

Venugopal Iyengar, COO Digital, Planetcast: The FAST business continues to gain importance as a means of additional revenue. However, we are now seeing greater attention given to quality content as well as a slow, albeit encouraging, move towards serving niche markets. Ethnic content is still heavily under-represented, and this is likely to be corrected over the course of this year.

Olivier Karra, marketing director, Broadpeak: Non-localized content is becoming a barrier to entry for certain markets. Managing live automated dubbing and subtitling with AI-powered technology will help unlock a wider range of audiences. AI will also speed up the time to market for FAST services, as cycles will then become immediate when new content is made available in any given market.

John Wastcoat, SVP of business development, Zixi: The quantity of FAST channels is expanding on every streaming platform, with an increasing array of options added regularly, necessitating these platforms to effectively scale and oversee this expanding content portfolio. Moreover, these platforms must scale operations such as ad-insertion, SCTE processing, and other processes distinctive to the FAST model. Zixi SDVP and similar platforms are introducing the necessary tools to orchestrate, manage, and monitor the extensive content on these platforms, providing operators with the essential analytics for informed decision-making.

Greg Morrow, GM of ViewNexa, Bitcentral: Implementing effective language support becomes crucial to cater to a global audience and deliver a seamless streaming experience across various regions. Adapting content for diverse linguistic audiences requires efficient translation processes and multilingual support. Ensuring accurate subtitles or providing original content in various languages is essential to making the service accessible and appealing to a broad international audience.

How are vendors ensuring scalability and reliability in their solutions for FAST service providers?

Medhat Ali, director, VM Cloud: Vendors are focusing on robust cloud infrastructure, efficient content delivery networks and scalable server solutions to ensure reliability and to allow a complete re-evaluation of workflows and business models. When we at VM Cloud develop a new infrastructure for a client, a key part of the project lies in clearly defining the business’s aims, ensuring that the workflows are perfectly tuned to meet them. Users must take full advantage of what the scalability really means for their business.

Yoann Hinard, COO, Witbe: Two words: testing and monitoring. To get an accurate picture of service quality, both should be performed on the real devices and operating systems that viewers are watching FAST channels on. The dynamic ad insertion process to insert ad pods into FAST channels can also easily affect the stream, so testing and monitoring ads is equally important.

Olivier Karra, marketing director, Broadpeak: Leveraging cloud-based and natively scalable technology services is an efficient way to maintain scalability and reliability for FAST services. For monetization, using an autoscaling Server-Side Ad Insertion (SSAI) SaaS with built-in resiliency is a good starting point. Advanced deployment environments, such as premium cluster and dedicated instance/platform, are another effective approach.

Paul Calleja, CEO, GlobalM: As a contribution service, GlobalM is ensuring scalability and reliability by leveraging advanced cloud orchestration capabilities. Our software-defined video network allows users to manage video services seamlessly, because the orchestrator handles the underlying cloud processes, efficiently allocating resources for each transmission.

John Wastcoat, SVP of business development, Zixi: A robust redundancy architecture, paired with distributed and highly efficient content processing, guarantees protection against network issues and outages. Cloud-first platforms like the Zixi Software-Defined Video Platform ensure scalability as the number of streams increases. Purpose-built tools for cloud monitoring and orchestration, such as ZEN Master and offer operators advanced features such as content localization, program mapping, time-shifting and advanced processing to tailor channels to the unique needs of each delivery endpoint.

Eric Black, CTO/GM of media, Edgio: Media companies need their technology partners to come together to help simplify and manage complex media workflows. We’re seeing a growing trend toward pre-integrated partnerships as vendors work more closely to offer flexible streaming ecosystems that make it easier and more cost-efficient to deliver all forms of streaming video. Pre-integrated partnerships enable content providers to scale their FAST distribution while sidestepping complex technology integrations and reducing pressures on internal teams.

What innovations in broadcast technology are being driven by the growth of FAST?

Josh Pine, CRO, XL8: Live streaming is relatively new to the FAST world, and major technological advancements have had to be created to adapt for live captioning and translation. Standard broadcast has used physical stenography for years, but for FAST it’s too expensive, not accurate enough, and doesn’t keep up fast enough with live sports and events. So we have turned to AI to create on the fly captions, and live translations.

Ahmed Swidan, director, Ateme: Automated scheduling with AI is being driven by the growth of FAST. Several vendors already offer this AI scheduling capability.

Olivier Karra, marketing director, Broadpeak: The growth of virtual channel playout is being driven by FAST. Virtual channel playout is now widely utilized in the broadcast space, for simple use cases such as long tail or pop-up channels. For those scenarios where channels might be entirely based on existing assets (already transcoded) and static schedules, using a full-blown playout and encoding platform is clearly becoming an overkill.

Paul Calleja, CEO, GlobalM: Cloud technologies are adapting to the demands of Streaming and FAST delivery. For content contribution, we are aligned with this evolution. By orchestrating cloud resources for video transport services, GlobalM allows entertainment providers to leverage the benefits of cloud computing in their workflows, ensuring fast, secure, and efficient live and file-based contribution from point-to-multipoint.

Eric Black, CTO/GM of media, Edgio: The growth of FAST has opened up an attractive and affordable viewing option for consumers, and underlined the importance of experimentation for media companies as they look for the most profitable distribution strategies. As a result, organizations are realizing they need much more flexible technology foundations to quickly and efficiently spin up new services. It’s an exciting time for streaming vendors that are coming together to help organizations assemble, manage, and deliver complex streaming workflows with minimal CapEx investment.

How do broadcast vendors view their role in the sustainability of the FAST business model?

John Wastcoat, SVP of business development, Zixi: Given the cost-sensitive nature of the FAST business model where each dollar is crucial, vendors must innovate and ensure that their platforms are exceptionally efficient, delivering more with fewer resources. This entails minimizing the computer resources needed for processing streams, optimizing bandwidth efficiency to mitigate cloud egress costs, ensuring easy scalability, and providing a unified tool for monitoring and controlling various system components. As an example, the SDVP reduces cloud egress cost by half. Additionally, broadcast vendors need to leverage AI and ML to assist engineering in quickly identifying and resolving issues reducing churn rate.

What challenges do vendors foresee in the future of FAST, and how are they preparing to address them?

Ahmed Swidan, director, Ateme: In the near future, FAST channels will be offered with a personalized schedule: each viewer will get a personal live channel tailored to their tastes. The challenge for vendors will be to offer scalable solutions to collect behavioral data and generate personal channels accordingly, at scale. Ateme is working to make its personal channels solution for FAST platforms even more scalable, to accommodate millions of concurrent viewers.

Gatis Gailis, CEO, Veset: With the demand for content sky high, the speed of consumer habits is changing every few months – leading to an increase in targeted advertising, monetized content and ad partnerships to stay relevant. Vendors and providers across the industry are attempting to prepare for addressing these challenges by opening up their solutions to a wide variety of integration, including FAST channel implementation. In the majority of cases, content providers are introducing entirely new and re-imagined solutions for FAST channels, with many believing that this dominating trend in the industry is the new future for content.

Thomas Kramer, VP of strategy, MainConcept: For FAST providers, many chose to use established codecs like AVC/H.264, which are great in the short term, but are not so easy when the need arises to transition to newer codecs. Also, the marriage of old and new content presents its own challenges particularly when using archive content not previously intended for OTT streaming. Existing automated distribution encoding systems will need to be updated to support a mixture of historic formats, codecs, colors and less common resolutions.  

Rick Young, SVP and head of global products, LTN: For many vendors it is a challenge to reach consumers across all new and legacy platforms — over the air (OTA), MVPD, FAST, OTT, vMVPD and streaming options direct to consumers. At its core, LTN is leading the way when it comes to delivering ad-supported live and linear channels everywhere they need to go.

Allan Nicholson, head of advertising solutions, Harmonic: A key challenge we identify involves effectively transitioning traditional video on demand (VOD) content into FAST services without incurring prohibitive costs, while ensuring profitability for all stakeholders in the video and ad tech processes. The integration of streamlined AI-based technologies capable of analyzing content, recognizing and marking appropriate ad breaks, and autonomously constructing contextual services for seamless streaming will play a crucial role in sustaining some of the existing FAST channels.

Eric Black, CTO/GM of media, Edgio: Maximizing the profitability of advertising and delivering exceptional viewing quality will be critical as FAST matures and viewer expectations evolve. Ensuring premium quality streaming experiences can be particularly challenging when integrating with third-party FAST platforms. As a result, we’re seeing content owners increasingly opt for best-in-class technology components supported by a managed services layer to enable highly reliable, broadcast-quality delivery.

How are cloud technologies adapting for streaming and FAST delivery?

Paul Calleja, CEO, GlobalM: Delivery networks need to keep pace with diverse viewing preferences and high demand. The growth of FAST and Streaming, combined with a growing consumer appetite for variety, is driving innovation in high-quality, low-latency content delivery and a need for more scalable workflows. This is where cloud contribution services are a natural fit for IPTV workflows.

Gatis Gailis, CEO, Veset: Many cloud playout solutions are making the shift to integrate their systems with more external factors to deal with the demand, such as incorporating monetizable and personalizable ad services into their products. By introducing system integrations that allow for the monetization and personalization of content, cloud playout providers are able to stay relevant in the broadcast and media industry whilst meeting consumer demand efficiently.

Rick Young, SVP and head of global products, LTN: Forward looking media companies are turning to hosted, non-CapEx service based technologies for their FAST distribution because they provide the business agility, flexibility and experimentation required in an evolving, complex environment. Media companies need to deliver more channels with fresh, live content. While flexibility and scale are critical, reliability can’t be sacrificed in a world where FAST and streaming revenues are growing to rival those from traditional platform delivery.

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