Black Americans Continue to Be Underserved in FAST

TV with FAST channel logos on it
Illustration: VIP+

In the months that followed VIP+’s initial analysis of U.S. FAST channels aimed at Black Americans, a number of services launched either owned-and-operated Black-focused FAST channels or added more of the available channels to their lineups. 

While this is directionally positive, VIP+’s latest assessment of Black FAST shows it remains woefully underserved. 

Channels targeted at Black audiences make up just 2% of all available FAST channels in the U.S., a proportion that is static from a year ago. Considering that 14% of the U.S. population is Black, this is textbook underrepresentation. 

Recent work from market research firm Horowitz Research found that 60% of Black consumers watch Black-focused content weekly and that the number of Black households subscribing to TV service fell from 88% in 2017 to 61% in 2021. In other words, Black consumers are watching less traditional TV, and they want to watch content reflecting their culture. FAST could help to meet the need to do so via streaming, but so far it has not done so. 

This is not necessarily the fault of FAST services. A lot of Black content is locked away on micro-SVOD services as various entertainment companies fragment the market to try to capitalize on the desire to watch Black-focused content.  

But it’s unlikely that a Black consumer will subscribe to every service, meaning the likes of BET+, Brown Sugar and ALLBLK compete against one another and bigger SVODs, ultimately limiting the amount of content available per person. 

This is where FAST could come in. Instead of upsell channels, created to lure viewers into subscribing to premium services by showing lower-tier content, FAST should be part of a more holistic distribution strategy, where premium content is shown linearly, and to watch it on demand and at one’s own pace, one must subscribe. 

Single-series channels are a great example of what could be here. Channels based around a single show, whether airing episodes linearly or out of order, would be great upsells for services with popular shows including “The Parkers,” “Martin,” “In Living Color” or “Girlfriends.” 

Currently, this is an area within Black FAST that is almost nonexistent. As of February 2023, just two Black-focused shows have dedicated single-series channels (“Are We There Yet?” and “T.D. Jakes”). Contrast this with the 71 that exist for Spanish-language shows, many of which are used to upsell consumers into subscribing to the subscription tier at TelevisaUnivision’s service ViX. 

Despite the general lack of content, there are some signs of improvement for Black FAST. The preponderance of major services now have more channels than at the same time last year, with Freevee and Plex (each 8 more), Tubi (6 more) and Local Now (adding 5 more) growing the most. 

The most distributed channels are “Maverick Black Cinema,” "LOL! Network," “Are We There Yet?” “TheGrio,” “Bounce XL” and “Fox Soul.” The majority of Black FAST channels are not on more than one or two services currently, offering plenty of room for growth. 

Entertainment companies with Black content would be wise to consider the trends in TV viewership among the community, the desire to watch content that reflects their culture and the general adoption of free streaming services.  

The lack of Big Media involvement overall provides a growth opportunity for someone prepared to be committed to Black FAST. Single-series channels provide a way to do so relatively easily and also a way to boost the number of available channels quickly.

With luck, at some point in 2023, FAST channels dedicated to Black TV shows and movies may move from woefully underserved to just underserved status.