Life in the F.A.S.T. Lane: A Special Report

Life the F..S.T. Lane: Special Report
Variety Intelligence Platform; Adobe Stock

The world of free ad-supported streaming TV has changed radically since Variety Intelligence Platform’s inaugural report on the format in July 2020. Back then, the only big media company to have a FAST service was ViacomCBS, following its acquisition of Pluto. It’s now joined by Amazon, Fox and NBCUniversal, with Google soon adding FAST functions to Chromecast.

With the world of FAST changing rapidly, VIP+ is proud to release an updated version of its “Life in the F.A.S.T. Lane” report, sponsored by leading FAST channel creator Amagi. Amagi is a global leader in cloud-based SaaS technology for broadcast and connected TV, supporting 500+ content brands and managing 2000+ channel deliveries.

With FAST currently in a boom — there are now over 1,000 channels in the U.S. alone, versus the 550 in July 2020 when our last report was released — the time is ripe for both those with knowledge of FAST and those looking to better understand it to explore VIP+’s latest analysis.

For those not yet aware of FAST, the format is essentially no different from watching a TV network. Unlike the other free streaming format — AVOD, which sees viewers select a title on demand and start at the beginning — FAST is a linear stream. This means that more often than not, a title on a FAST channel is joined in progress by the viewer. It also means FAST services can lay their channels out in an electronic programming grid (EPG), in a fashion similar to cable and satellite providers.

That similarity explains why so many traditional providers are directly or indirectly getting into FAST. Comcast Xfinity outright owns Xumo, with channels from it and NBCUniversal’s Peacock Channels integrated into the Xfinity EPG. It’s a similar setup for TiVo+, TiVo’s FAST service, which sees channels placed within the EPG as well as available separately on TiVo devices. Pluto, too, has been part of recent carriage deals ViacomCBS has signed with MVPDs; expect to see some high-profile Pluto channels, like “MTV Pluto TV,” integrated into MVPD EPGs soon.

FAST is also being used by MVPDs to keep the ad-sales revenue formerly earned from subscribers watching TV. With TV subscribers falling every month, and broadband increasing, this revenue is declining — hence, the spate of connected devices being offered to broadband-only subscribers, including Comcast Flex and Altice Stream. By building FAST services into these devices, MVPDs calculate some subscribers will watch and thus be exposed to ads, boosting their bottom lines once more.

TV set manufacturers are also increasingly prioritizing FAST as a revenue stream. Samsung, LG and Vizio all offer built-in branded FAST services that, for newer models, are accessible via a dedicated button on remotes. Amazon’s Fire TV, which includes Amazon-owned FAST services Fire TV News and IMDb TV, powers Toshiba and Best Buy in-house brand Insignia in the U.S., with Amazon now selling its own Omni line. Roku’s Roku Channel service is built into Roku-operated sets from TCL, Hisense and Walmart in-house brand Onn.

The majority of traditional media companies have come to embrace FAST, either owning FAST services or creating multiple FAST channels (or both). In fact, there are only three that stand out for their lack of a FAST presence: Discovery, Disney and WarnerMedia.

The same goes for major sports. Although this report makes clear that channels from major sports leagues are currently poorly programmed, the NFL, MLB, MLS, Premier League, PGA Tour and WWE all have FAST channels, with only the NHL, NBA and NASCAR lacking a presence.

In short, FAST has quickly moved from an area dominated by start-ups and digital brands to the latest avenue for established media and entertainment companies.

Read on to learn about:

1

Who’s who in FAST services and insights into FAST viewers

2

What’s currently available on FAST

3

What to expect from the future of the format