Free ad-supported TV (FAST) is quickly moving from fringe to mainstream in the race to displace traditional cable with over-the-top (OTT) and connected TV (CTV) services, and with good reason: consumers will not pay for all their TV content.
Today, FAST provides a familiar linear viewing experience for consumers while enabling rightsholders to more widely distribute content and unlock increased ad revenue opportunities. Many rightsholders utilize FAST as a cost-effective way to maximize audience reach by monetizing a relevant part of their catalog content. For advertisers, the growing streaming model is equally as enticing, providing them with a highly targeted way to reach viewers at scale.
FAST viewership hours more than doubled in 2021. Fueled by an influx of new premium content, growing audiences and fresh advertising dollars, the FAST market in the United States is poised to reach 216 million monthly active users in 2023, according to a study from nScreenMedia.
\With 92% of U.S. households reachable via CTV open programmatic advertising, CTV is a scarce and coveted ad positioning for advertisers in the marketplace today. According to a 2022 CTV/OTT Advertiser Study from Advertiser Perceptions and Premion, 25% of respondents called CTV/OTT the most valuable media type in 2021, and 84% said the inventory is at least as valuable as primetime TV. As such, CTV ad spend is expected to increase by 22% in 2022.
It’s important that content owners and rightsholders be strategic in growing their FAST business so they can fully capitalize on the platform’s benefits and increase their value to advertisers. Here are three prongs to a successful FAST plan of action:
1.) Clearly define your content strategy. Be strategic about the content package you offer viewers on FAST services. Why this content, why in FAST? If you’re a sports league, for example, at this current moment it’s likely not smart to put your top-tier live games on FAST, but you can strategize about how to leverage catalog content to create a compelling consumer experience in a linear format.
2.) Promote discoverability. FAST channels don’t adhere to the “if you build it, they will come” ideology. Driving viewers to your FAST channel is a deal-making and marketing challenge. Be thoughtful about how you’re working with FAST service partners to get promotion and valuable placement on the screen and within their programming guide. You should also be leveraging your own channels, such as social media, to alert your audience about your FAST offerings. If you don’t focus on building an audience across your FAST ecosystem, you won’t.
3.) If you haven’t already, get involved now. FAST in its current state is reminiscent of the early days of YouTube; right now, there’s still tremendous opportunity to build your audience and establish your brand without competition from all angles. In the next 12 to 18 months, content owners and rightsholders should have a strategy to incorporate FAST into their media mix alongside social, licensing, and OTT plays. With seismic shifts expected in the FAST arena in the next 24 months, content owners joining the game too late could face limited FAST inventory and end up at the mercy of FAST platforms’ requests for content rather than driving their own channel placement and scheduling.
The Future of FAST
The TV ecosystem is undergoing unprecedented change. Will the future of TV consist of a combination of FAST services, a few bespoke SVOD/AVOD apps, and aggregation/bundled services? Perhaps. It’s likely to somewhat resemble what we have today, albeit in a more convenient content delivery method. As with any entertainment model transitioning from fringe to mainstream, it takes the big content owners and rights holders to come in and cement that model’s viability and positioning in the marketplace. We are seeing this happen very quickly with FAST.
As FAST offerings continue to increase their share of entertainment time, rights holders will flock to engage viewers with not just catalog material but, increasingly, fresh, premium content. It’s possible we’ll start to see top-tier content like live sports games on FAST channels, akin to a free-to-air partner today, in the not-so-distant future. For rightsholders and advertisers alike, FAST is ripe with opportunity and worth exploring as a key part of your direct-to-consumer business. ■
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Matt Starker is senior VP, head of direct-to-consumer business and corporate strategy at Endeavor Streaming