2020 has been a breakout year for free streaming services in the U.S. Big media companies like Fox and Comcast followed ViacomCBS’ lead in purchasing a major free service in order to add the younger audience to their total reach.
There are two types of services within the free streaming umbrella, and most offer both ad-supported video on demand and ad-supported linear streaming (also known as FAST, or Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV). These services have grown during the year, with Pluto, Tubi, Roku and Xumo all reporting ever-increasing audience and revenue figures.
Given the growth in FAST and AVOD, VIP has compiled data across key trends this market is seeing to allow our readers to understand this booming video sector.
The Free Market Is Increasing in Competitiveness
The number of services providing either AVOD, FAST linear streams or both has continued to grow in 2020. Peacock is the highest-profile new entrant to the market overall, but Amazon’s IMDb TV has added linear streams, and Plex, Redbox and Tivo have all introduced new services as media companies become aware of the potential revenue that can be made from AVOD and don’t want to miss out.
CTV Advertising Keeps Growing
Advertising, as measured by the number of ad impressions served to viewers, has seen tremendous growth across connected TVs and devices (CTV), in data provided to VIP from CTV ad-insertion company Wurl. October saw 600% more impressions served versus the December 2019 baseline, a clear indication that both time-spent viewing and monetization of that time are growing.
FAST Channels Continue to Grow
No FAST service is ending 2020 with fewer channels available on its service than it began. Pluto and Xumo remain the clear numbers one and two in terms of total channels, with Pluto boosting out its channel offerings in December with the inclusion of localized CBSN feeds. The majority of other services offering linear streams have also seen substantial increases in 2020, with there now being over 700 unique channels across services in the U.S.
One that can be expected to grow in 2021 is Peacock. Many of the channels that were announced during NBCU’s investor day event in January have yet to appear, including what would appear to slam dunks for viewers like “L&O DUN DUN.”
Channel Churn Is a Growing Phenomenon
In spite of the growth rates in channel options, “channel churn” is a very real phenomenon. Linear streaming platforms are not simply adding to their offerings but cutting channels. Of the major services VIP has tracked throughout 2020, Pluto leads the way in churn, with 30% of the networks offered in January no longer on the service. This is good for viewers, as it means service operators are taking note of what works and what doesn’t, and tweaking lineups to maximize the viewing experience.
More Big Media Names Are Entering Linear Streaming
December saw Crown Media enter the linear streaming arena, with “Hallmark Movies & More” available on Xumo. There are very few big media companies without a branded linear streaming network, with The CW and Discovery the most notable absences. This shows the new distribution format is gaining traction and suggests that more streaming channels from traditional media should be expected for 2021.