What the Boom in FAST Channels and Services Means

What the Boom FAST Channels and
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

Free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) is growing rapidly.

VIP+’s exclusive research shows that there are currently over 1,000 FAST channels operating in the U.S alone across 20 different FAST providers.

The number of channels keeps growing as the marketplace becomes more crowded and competitive. A quick glance at VIP+’s monthly tally of the number of channels available on FAST services shows very few lines turning down, with the vast majority of services adding more channels every month.

The large number of channels says two things about FAST: one, it is clearly a field that is growing among audiences; and, two, at some point in the next year or two, expect the current gold-rush phenomenon to end.

Data provided to VIP+ by leading FAST channel distributor and ad service Wurl shows the number of ad impressions served to viewers of the channels they package and distribute started to massively increase during the first stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, and it has continued to increase throughout 2021 versus initial 2020 levels.

This explains the current gold rush we are seeing: There’s money to be made in FAST. Increased audiences means more people seeing ads, which means more revenue to be had. This is why both the number of FAST providers and channels has exploded in 2021, as anyone with content or a way to distribute it sees new revenue streams.

The growth in hours of viewing and ad revenue Wurl has seen across large studios further explains why FAST is experiencing such growth. But as with all things, unfettered growth is not possible in the long term.

Unless viewership is increasing at a similar, or faster, rate than the number of channels being launched, a hypercompetitive period will emerge where some channels take a high amount of views, leaving hundreds of other channels to scrap it out for the rest.

This may actually suit some channels. The number of local TV stations adding a live FAST component for their news offerings is growing quickly, led primarily by Tubi (with Fox and Hearst affiliates), Haystack TV, Fire TV News and STIRR. The audience for local news is obviously niche on a national scale but offers a way for these networks to get ahead of the changing content trends for younger viewers.

Most FAST channels won’t be as lucky as local news. Already, many of the most distributed FAST channels are connected to traditional media, ranging from giants like NBC Universal and A&E Networks to diginets Buzzr and Circle. These are brands viewers are comfortable with, meaning they’ll ultimately exert a pull on the audience away from the digital brands that have made up FAST lineups for so long.

The same can be expected to happen to FAST services. The market will swell to over 20 soon given Google’s recent announcement that Chromecast will have a FAST service, which is a tremendously high number for a format that’s still growing. VIP+ anticipates the number of FAST platforms to shrink in the next year or two as competition increases and platforms with the biggest brands begin to pull out ahead of the rest.

Read our special report "Life in the FAST Lane"