Free Streaming Metrics Need to Change

trash can filled with MAU
Illustration: VIP+: Adobe Stock

As VIP+ has long derided, it is impossible to get any insight from the services themselves into how U.S. FAST services are being used.  

Operating in a cloak-and-dagger mindset, no one is willing to share how many domestic users they have, with only a few opting instead to share the larger global figure. 

But is a measure of monthly active users (MAUs) even relevant for a viewing medium that is growing more and more entrenched with viewers? 

A common trick of publicly traded media companies is to pick a metric that inflates usage of a new service to the greatest possible number, irrespective of relevancy. See Peacock’s “total number of sign-ups” as a prime example for over more than its first year of existence or the multiple uses of “streaming minutes” as a gauge, but MAUs are also guilty of such parlor trickery. 

TV networks do not report on their average monthly viewers, even though they likely would love to be able to do so, as it would show their total reach versus the much lower viewers for specific shows. It would behoove FAST platforms to establish metrics that could be easily understood by execs used to selling on TV in order to maximize the total number of ads sold.  

There are possibilities for metrics to replace MAUs. Tubi likes to report on total viewing time (TVT), which is a much more effective volume-based metric than users. With Tubi’s recent “The Stream” report including users and total hours streamed in the year, it’s possible to do an approximate calculation and find that the average Tubi user watched for 6 hours and 38 minutes a month. 

Services like Tubi and Pluto also report global revenue, although Pluto will cease to be broken out separately by Paramount in 2023 reporting, which is a great blow for an industry already lacking transparency. This enables us to calculate monthly ARPU for global FAST, with Pluto seeing $1.38 per user in Q4 2022 and Tubi $1.04. 

Note that these are global figures, including markets a lot weaker than the U.S. for CTV ad buying. The U.S. figure would be much greater but is unable to be shown given the penchant for global-only figures.  

It is also worth pointing out from VIP+’s table above that very few executives release actual figures when asked about their free streaming performance during earnings call Q&As, instead only giving out contextless percentage changes. 

In the void of self-reported metrics, companies such as TVision provide a valuable service by measuring usage across free streaming services within their panel. These are indicative of overall performance, and while they lack OEM services, they shed valuable comparative insights for the industry.  

Summing together the tracked services shows that in Q4 2022, free streaming services were watched for an average of 6 hours and 9 minutes per month, up from 3 hours and 55 minutes one year earlier, a figure that would be higher if the likes of Vizio WatchFree+ and Samsung TV Plus could be included. Even without them, this is an increase of 57%. 

Revenue, users and TV time are great metrics when all reported, but an even more helpful one would be average monthly ad impressions served per user. Some services may balk at sharing such information publicly — it's rare for them to share this with their channel partners — but it would be easily understood by the ad industry and allow for a level of transparency.  

With advertisers now viewing ad-supported SVOD tiers from Disney+, Paramount+, HBO Max, Peacock and Netflix as competitors for FAST and AVOD spend — incorrectly so, in VIP+'s opinion, considering how the content is vastly different, as are the viewers — creating relevant and easily decipherable performance metrics is a must.

Not doing so runs a risk of, temporarily at least, depressing the free streaming ad market as an education gap emerges.