Free ad-supported TV (FAST) providers are enjoying the most rapid expansion in their history. Pluto TV, which launched in early 2014 and took six years to reach 16 million monthly active users (MAUs) in the US, has almost doubled that total in the last two years. Other FAST services have enjoyed similarly explosive growth, including Xumo and The Roku Channel.
It’s no surprise that such a thriving market has attracted a slew of more FAST services. FAST services are now built-in by all significant smart TV manufacturers. Three of the top four smart TV brands in the United States — TCL, Samsung, LG, and Vizio – offer branded FAST services from the home screen. Samsung and LG provide access to their FAST services TV Plus and Channels from the home menu bar. WatchFree gets the same treatment from Vizio, with a dedicated button on the TV remote. FAST apps are also available from connected TV (CTV) device manufacturers such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and TiVo 4K Stream. vLinear channels are also available through apps like Plex and DistroTV.
So what has brought about this shift in habits? There are three key areas that make FAST services appeal to streaming providers.
FAST enables streaming providers to do more with their content
Live TV is a lean-back experience without disruption, engaging audiences in new ways. It also brings new life to library content and creates new advertising revenues, so it’s easy to see why FAST channels are becoming increasingly popular with content owners.
An excellent example of FAST channels in action is discovery Plus, which boasts a vast library of VoD content. Discovery used the Edgecast Channel Scheduler and Syndication Publishing APIs to schedule and publish curated material as discovery Plus Channels. They’re controlled in the Discovery CMS, which makes it easy to automate and standardise their workflow, enabling Discovery to take the dynamism of server-side ad insertion (SSAI) and apply it to content. Furthermore, each channel was defined with four redundant stream versions, resulting in greater platform availability and resilience.
discovery Plus works for all parties. The viewer joins an already-running channel and does not waste time hunting for something to watch. Meanwhile, Discovery can make more use of its expensive content library and create new ad-based revenues.
The opportunity to engage new audiences
Programmers may arrange live and VoD material with ad insertion, enable sophisticated broadcast capabilities like output syndication and virtual linear channels and remain on top of their live events from a single platform and intuitive interface. With VoD libraries compiled into FAST channels, the likes of Discovery can think far beyond the borders of their own apps and services because vLinear channels open up the prospect of syndication. There’s a huge opportunity for the likes of Discovery to reach new audiences by turning VoD content into live channels because it allows them to syndicate the channels out via streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime.
New monetisation methods
Traditional linear television continues to dominate the advertising market, accounting for most global ad spend. That, however, is about to change. According to eMarketer, CTV ad spending will be close to $30 billion in 2024, which is more than double what it was in 2021. The explosion of the CTV audience means the format will soon overtake cable/satellite television, which has been the dominant viewing method for decades. The majority of CTV ads are already delivered via programmatic trading and targeting, making it a considerably more lucrative environment in which to run ads. As far as the viewer is concerned, it’s TV. But to the provider it’s so much more because of the ability to target and programmatically trade advertising to increase CPMs. There’s a huge opportunity for the likes of discovery+ to get in on the action with its FAST channels.
These linear viewing experiences have proven beneficial to content owners in increasing the value of their content and, more crucially, keeping viewers engaged and watching for more extended periods.
Content owners can publish streams directly to the most prominent distribution platforms using FAST channels. Discovery can now engage audiences in new ways, expand its content reach across all Amazon Prime OTT devices, and uncover new revenue methods from the usual SVoD model.