Note: The following is based upon content from Variety Intelligence Platform’s special report “Life in the FAST Lane,” devoted to exploring free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) and available exclusively to subscribers.
FAST has come a long way in the two years since VIP+ published our first report dedicated to the streaming format.
As well as the number of providers and platforms rapidly increasing, the viewing experience has undergone a big overhaul in performance. EPG (electronic program guides) to select channels have gotten slicker, and the load time for shows has fallen from several seconds to near instantaneous, creating a much more “TV-like” experience for viewers.
But FAST is not finished evolving, and VIP+ has determined three key areas in which to anticipate multiple developments in the coming months …
Channels and Content
The number of FAST channels available across major platforms continues to accelerate. Between January and June 2022, 213 more channels were added (our report dives into which genres are behind this growth). This is a growth rate of 17% and shows no signs of slowing as many media companies announced in the NewFronts and OTT.X-Fronts plans to increase their channels before the end of the year.
A number of free streaming services — Freevee, Roku Channel and Tubi — have also announced plans to ramp up original content. Whilst this is primarily directed toward their AVOD libraries, Freevee already has several channels based on originals. This trend will continue as platforms seek to differentiate themselves from competitors, with services like Peacock, Tubi and Pluto TV, which are all part of large media conglomerates, adding exclusive channels based on library content as well.
FAST has long been considered a way for "younger" viewers to engage with content, even if most of what's available is appealing more to older millennials and Generation X. This will soon change. Expect to see social media lean into their content to create clip channels that are Trusted Media Brands-esque (owners of Jukin Media and purveyors of popular FAST channels “Fail Army,” “The Pet Collective” and “People Are Awesome”).
YouTube, too, will ultimately launch a FAST service. Earlier this year, the platform launched a TV AVOD service, and a FAST platform fueled by popular YouTube originals and influencers would truly make FAST a destination for young viewers. VIP+ has also covered why Netflix should embrace FAST in order to maximize the value of its older content, for which no one subscribes anymore; SVODs will ultimately lean into additional content monetization methods.
Big Media should also be expected to utilize its major IP as the FAST weapons they are. NBCUniversal is a great example. Currently there is not a “Law & Order” or “The Office” dedicated FAST channel on Peacock, despite the former being promised during the initial unveiling of the service. These would be licenses to print money. Currently, Peacock does offer channels such as “Classic TV Crime” and “Can’t Not Laugh,” which are almost exclusively fueled by these titles. Making it clearer what’s available would boost viewership and ad monetization.
Advertising and Data
Advertising is another area where FAST can be expected to see a number of developments, given that FAST is part of the CTV interface promising several revolutionary new concepts. One interesting case study comes from CTV advertising agency Origin Media, which partnered with Visit Florida to run ads on CTV interfaces whenever the local weather was cold. Innovations such as this, as well as increased use of QR codes, can be expected on FAST.
As such, ad revenues for FAST can be expected to climb. VIP+ has estimated that the domestic ad market for FAST will hit north of $6 billion by 2026. This will drive demand among advertisers for greater uniformity and openness from FAST platforms, with this also key among channel operators themselves. For bigger brands to enter the market, platforms must be willing to share key metrics to help prove how effective FAST is.
Viewership and Integration
FAST channels being integrated into the EPGs for MVPDs and VMVPDs is nothing new. Tastemade was part of PlayStation Vue’s lineup in 2019. But in the search for added value amidst programming cutbacks on traditional TV, more TV providers will seek to bring in Big Media-branded FAST channels, such as “Stories by AMC” or “Hallmark Movies & More,” to give the appearance of more value to subscribers.
VIP+ has long championed the inclusion of free channels in SVOD services owned by the same company, noting in a previous "Life in the FAST Lane" incarnation in October 2021 that companies should seek to ape the example set by Peacock. Univision is set to do this with its ViX+ service, but the other Big Media companies with both SVOD and FAST — Paramount (Pluto and Paramount+) and AMC (AMC+ and numerous FAST channels) — keep them separate. This will change as executives realize the easiest way to reach an audience is to keep them within the same app/platform and that making viewers' lives easy extends viewership and revenue opportunities.
The topic of integration can also be extended to one across corporate families. Currently, four FAST services are owned by companies holding NFL game rights: Amazon (Freevee), Fox (Tubi), NBCU (Peacock) and Paramount Global (Pluto TV). Expect to see these services heavily promoted during NFL games this season as their owners seek to entice audiences to watch through a mixture of original content and exclusive channels.