Premium Streaming Channels: An Industry Status Check

Illustration of various chess pieces with
Illustration: VIP+

Little attention has been paid to premium streaming channels by the industry at large.  

The paid streaming equivalent to FAST has not grown beyond being part of streaming services AMC+, Discovery+ and Paramount+ since VIP+ analyzed the space in December 2021.  

AMC+ was the first streaming service to launch a premium streaming channel — AMC+ Channel — alongside linear streams of its TV networks in October 2020. Discovery+ has had linear channels since it was launched in January 2021, and Paramount+ added its premium channels in December 2021. (The live feed of CBS has been available to ad-free subscribers since the days of CBS All Access.) 

All services have added channels to their lineups since VIP+ last measured them. It’s also worth noting that Paramount+ includes channels for the various sports rights it holds, but these only appear when a live game is occurring and so they are not included in the analysis. 

Each service has a different strategy regarding its premium channels. AMC+ appears primarily to be a way to boost audiences for the cable networks, as it includes live feeds, including ads, of AMC, BBC America, IFC and Sundance. There are also two ad-free channels exclusive to the service, AMC+ and The Walking Dead Channel. All channels can be found via an icon in the center of the service’s navigation bar. 

It is interesting to note that none of the 11 FAST channels AMC currently operates are included within AMC+, although it could be argued that The Walking Dead Channel is a premium version of The Walking Dead Universe. Including the likes of ALLBLK Gems, AMC Thrillers and Slightly Off by IFC would boost the value proposition to users and likely increase total audience.  

Equally, adding premium channels based upon AMC’s niche streaming services Acorn TV and Shudder would both see increased time spent within the app and lead to some upsells. 

In contrast to AMC+, Discovery+ makes it very difficult to find its linear channels from the homepage. Despite including them from the very beginning, it feels as if Discovery doesn’t want users to see them — possibly due to them being ad-free even on the ad-supported service, a situation that seems slightly bizarre. 

Discovery+ has taken one of FAST’s biggest innovations — the single-show channel — and applied it to premium streaming. There are channels based solely on some of the biggest hits within the Discovery brand, such as 90 Day Fiancé Channel, House Hunters Channel and Say Yes to the Dress Channel, but there are also themed channels such as the From the Crypt Channel.  

It seems to be a big missed opportunity to not have built ads into these channels — what VIP+ has dubbed “PAST” — when setting up the service, especially as FAST technology has been around for close to 10 years. Once the HBO Max and Discovery+ services merge next year, and legacy WarnerMedia brands likely launch PAST channels within it, as well as FAST channels, it will be even more puzzling to shareholders if ad-supported subscriptions continue to allow access to high-demand content without ads. 

Paramount+ has tiered its offerings based on subscription plan. Only premium subscribers get access to the CBS live feed, but access to live streams of digital networks CBS News, CBS News Local, CBS Sports HQ and Mixable are included across tiers, as are the premium streaming channels. 

Just as is the case with Discovery+, these channels are also ad-free even for the ad-supported subscription tier. For a company that’s a leader in FAST with Pluto TV, that does seem like an oversight, especially as channels like Mixable are ad-supported within Paramount+. 

On the topic of Pluto, there’s zero integration with that service within Paramount+. VIP+ isn’t suggesting removing the Pluto service and rolling it all into Paramount+. But given Peacock has a curated FAST channel offering of around 50 channels as part of the user experience for both subscribers and non-subscribers, it wouldn’t be difficult for Paramount to lean into their strengths and pull in some of their owned-and-operated Pluto channels. 

With the majority of SVOD services either currently operating or planning to launch ad-supported on-demand tiers in the near future, PAST will be the next frontier to embrace. A premium version of FAST, which has succeeded in part due to its replication of the channel surfing experience and removing the need to hunt for a title, will boost time spent on a service and, if monetized via ads, increase revenue. 

Seeing Peacock include themed WWE channels or a channel called "The Office" for subscribers and Hulu launching a “Grey’s Anatomy” PAST channel are to be expected soon. Let’s not forget, either, that Netflix has already experimented with a linear channel in France. Rolling out themed PAST channels will be the next step for many services looking to further boost their streaming incomes.