Latest Trends in U.S. Linear Streaming

FAST (Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV)
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

Linear streaming (sometimes known as FAST or Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV channels) is a fast-growing field within media (see VIP’s special report), including Pluto TV, Peacock and Roku Channel. The number of platforms offering linear streams continues to grow, with the number of services as of October 1 at 12, two of which — IMDb TV and Plex — have launched services since publication of VIP’s report in July.

The market is growing, but it’s hard to gauge realistically how many people regularly watch these services. Only Pluto TV gives quarterly updates, and even though these have shown consistent growth since ViacomCBS’ acquisition, it is unclear how many are daily or even weekly viewers.

Given the lack of audience data from most linear streaming services, consumer research can fill the gap. Pollsters YouGov recently asked 1,276 adults age 18 or older which services they had used in the past week and shared the data exclusively with VIP. The results showed that services featuring linear streaming can be considered niche in terms of audience. 

Pluto TV is the service with the most available channels, at 233. Comcast’s Xumo is next, with 195 channels, followed by Samsung TV Plus (135) and Roku Channel and Stirr (both 120). Clearly there is wide choice for consumers to watch, with each service offering a blend of channels unique to them and others licensed out from third parties or other services. 

A key trend to note is that the number of channels available on each service grows at almost a monthly pace. Within these increases are some general trends in terms of channels being added. One is that more platforms are adding, or increasing, Spanish-language content. As well as making the service more accessible to a swath of consumers domestically, this also aids expansion to Latin America with content that’s already available and programmed, as Pluto TV, Xumo, Roku and Plex are currently doing. 

Diginets — channels carried by a broadcast network’s signal and available via digital antenna and on most MVPD services — are also increasing their distribution on linear streamers. ViacomCBS’ Dabl was recently added to Pluto, and Sinclair Broadcasting’s STIRR carries its suite of diginets, but an increasing number of third-party diginets such as ION Plus, Circle and Court TV are picking up linear-stream distribution in an effort to boost their reach.

Another aspect to keep an eye on is the increased involvement of big media companies. ViacomCBS and NBCU have services that have integrations with their cable network brands, but A&E and AMC are increasingly beginning to play in this space (VIP thinks Discovery should, too).

AMC has announced partnerships with Pluto TV and now IMDb TV for channels based on both their brands — examples such as “WEtv Absolute Reality” and “AMC Presents” — as well as those around tentpole franchise “The Walking Dead.” A&E Networks has launched the unbranded “Lively Place” across linear services but is also branching out to branded channels such as “Crime 360, brought to you by A&E” and “Skills and Thrills, presented by History Channel.”

This all points to linear streaming gaining acceptance as a new distribution format, particularly in the battle to reach younger audiences who no longer subscribe to cable TV. As such, anticipate the number of channels and services to keep ticking up over the coming months.