Note: The following is based upon content from Variety Intelligence Platform’s special report devoted to exploring free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST), available exclusively to subscribers.
One of the strengths of free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) is that the format’s low setup costs mean that niche and special-interest channels that may be cost prohibitive to have as traditional TV channels are profitable in the form of streaming channels.
Yet not all cultures and communities are represented equally.
Exclusive research conducted by VIP+ shows that in July 2022 there were 252 unique Spanish-language FAST channels versus 21 streaming channels focused on African Americans. That’s a ratio of 13:1.
This is even more striking when considering the results of the 2020 census. Per the results, there are 39.4 million Spanish speakers in the U.S, with 77% saying they speak English well (17%) or very well (60%). This leaves 8.9 million — 23% of total Spanish speakers — who are poor English speakers, who are the prime viewing targets for the 252 channels.
Yet there are 41.6 million African Americans in the U.S., or a ratio of 5:1 compared with Spanish-dominant speakers. Considering the ratio of channels, this is why it is fair to consider African Americans underserved by FAST.
And yet this is not necessarily the fault of the FAST platforms. They are only able to create channels with whatever content is available, and the African American community has historically been underserved by production companies. Still, there are independent studios now making original content powering FAST, and there should be more of an effort to reach this audience.
Given the relatively low cost of producing documentaries, surely a Big Media company could put some effort into creating a Black History Month documentaries channel that could continue to run all year long. Other positive content that would be simple for FAST to create would be food and cooking, lifestyle content or home improvement shows.
As it is, the scarcity of African American content continues. Some companies should be lauded for their efforts. Allen Media Group’s latest acquisition “Black News Channel”, whose FAST channel "BNC Go" had been relegated to reruns of non-news originals whilst in bankruptcy, has the widest reach, with 11 platforms carrying it. Fox’s “Fox Soul” and Maverick Entertainment’s “Maverick Black Cinema” follow with a broad distribution of 8 platforms each, but many more media companies could emulate this.
By focusing on one demographic group of a similar size but ignoring another, media companies do a disservice to African Americans as well as their bottom lines. Instead of trying to outcompete on the number of Spanish-language channels, which is a limited market, bold companies should be investing in African American content, which has the potential to become mainstream, and faces much lower competition.
As noted earlier, a key strength of FAST is the ability to launch channels cost effectively. As such, there is really no excuse for the paucity of channels aimed at African Americans.
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