New Amazon Foray Will Up the Ante for Free Streaming

Amazon Prepares FAST Service
Cheyne Gateley/VIP

Amazon’s foray into streaming is getting bigger.

News broke on Tuesday that Amazon is looking to hire a team of engineers to add linear TV channels to Prime Video, including 24-hour linear feeds. Known in the industry as FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV), services such as Pluto TV, The Roku Channel and Xumo have been growing in popularity, with even NBCU’s new Peacock service including a FAST section.

FAST services typically are a blend of pre-programmed linear channels, which stream just as cable and local TV channels air, i.e. not on-demand, but also feature live streams from linear and digital channels such as Bloomberg,  beIN Sports Xtra and CBSN NY.

The FAST market is currently in its second era. It has evolved beyond the introductory stage, where a small handful of services operated, and grown to see ten different platforms featuring content from media firms such as AMC, ViacomCBS, A&E Networks and Comcast. The incursion of Amazon into FAST would see the market enter a third era.

This is due to the focus that Amazon will place upon such a service. Don’t be fooled, they will not be entering with a “me too” product, powered mostly by other FAST services, in an attempt to grab a small share of online video ad dollars. Having gone through this with the launch of IMDb TV, née Freedive, Amazon won’t want a repeat.

To avoid this, there will likely be a focus on, pardon the pun, prime content. Expect to see FAST channels built on Prime Video shows – the Mrs. Marvelous Maisel channel – as well as high level licensing acquisitions. Depending on Amazon’s level of intent, with film studios such as MGM reportedly available, and LionsGate a perennial rumored acquisition target for Amazon, acquiring a high-profile media company to power a new service would be a strong statement of intent.

This would represent the best way to bring viewers into a live service. With five standalone FAST services each offering over 100 channels to viewers, using big entertainment brands to anchor the service will help it to stand out.

The goal of the live channels within Prime Video is to keep viewers watching within the overall interface. This is the same reason why NBCU added 22 linear channels based on their IP to Peacock – if there’s no new shows to watch, the service still offers a unique entertainment offering, and better yet, can serve up ads. With Amazon’s vast consumer offerings and deep understanding of customer analytics, more chances to target viewers with products they’ll likely want is a key target.

There’s still a way off from the service launching as the team to do it is only just being hired, but just the confirmation that Amazon will be entering the linear TV streaming business should be enough to shake-up existing services to create content that will allow users to resist the siren’s call of Amazon. The new era of FAST has arrived.