There was a time when "remote wars" were a real family feud and waiting a week for the next episode was the ultimate test of patience. Television has come a long way since then. From the grainy black and white broadcasts of yesteryears to the vivid 4K displays of today, TV has evolved not just in technology but also in content delivery.
From Cable TV to Streaming Platforms
Before the rise of streaming, cable TV dominated the entertainment landscape. Viewers paid for bundled channels, many of which they didn't watch. This model was expensive and lacked flexibility.
Then came the streaming giants. Platforms like Netflix and Hulu began offering on-demand content. These platforms required monthly subscriptions but gave viewers the freedom to choose what they wanted to watch without ads.
As more streaming platforms emerged, each with its subscription fee, viewers began to feel the pinch. The cumulative cost of multiple subscriptions could rival traditional cable bills.
Thus, in the era of on-demand streaming and cord-cutting, a new trend emerged: FAST (Free Ad-Supported Streaming Television). Merging the traditional TV model with the digital age's conveniences, FAST offers viewers a plethora of content without the subscription fees, funded instead by integrated advertising.
According to Statista, the number of FAST users worldwide was estimated at 900 million in 2020 and is projected to reach 1.6 billion by 2024, a growth of 78% in four years, which is remarkable.
The Emergence of FAST
As the digital age saw a surge in subscription-based streaming platforms, a gap emerged for viewers who yearned for the simplicity of traditional TV but with the flexibility of digital content. FAST bridges this gap.
Unlike platforms that demand monthly fees, FAST offers a vast array of content without digging into viewers' pockets, making its revenue through advertisements. The global FAST market size was valued at $27.1 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29.7% from 2021 to 2028.
The top five FAST services worldwide in 2022 were Pluto TV, Tubi, The Roku Channel, Xumo Play and Samsung TV Plus. Among them, Pluto TV having the most monthly active users (MAU) at 78.5 million. These services offer a variety of content genres, such as news, sports, entertainment, and movies.
The region with the highest share of FAST channel revenues in 2022 was North America, followed by Europe and Asia-Pacific. However, the fastest-growing region for FAST users is expected to be Africa, where internet penetration and smartphone adoption are increasing rapidly.
Srini KA, Co-founder, Amagi, says, “We're seeing local news stations using FAST to expand beyond their traditional offerings. For example, NBC has state feeds for their Spanish stations, while Cox has started with hyperlocal TV. I also believe that FAST will eventually open up sources where local news can dynamically sell in content based on what the user wants—not just from the publisher’s own news sources, but from third-party news sources as well.” (Source: TVREV Newsletter).
According to Alan Wolk, Co-founder & Lead Analyst at TVREV, “Between cord-cutting and the broadcast networks' fixation on streaming, the picture could look very bleak. But rather than seeing streaming as a threat, there's potential in viewing it as an avenue for reinvention.
By leveraging FAST services, expanding local news coverage to create 24-hour channels, and tapping into data-driven personalization, local TV might find not just relevance but renewed significance at a time when the monoculture has become little more than a ‘remember when’."
Cable vs Streaming vs FAST
Navigating the world of television and streaming today can be a maze, for viewers and businesses alike. Here’s a comparison of cable TV, subscription-based streaming services like Netflix, and the emerging FAST platforms, with their key differences and offerings.
Benefits of FAST for Viewers
As every other streaming platform seems to be reaching into our wallets, FAST emerges as an alternative and viewers are gravitating towards it, for a variety of reasons:
No Subscription Fees: The most immediate and tangible benefit of FAST is the absence of monthly subscription fees. With FAST, the days of signing up for a monthly subscription to a streaming service for ‘just that one show’ are gone. You get access to a plethora of content without the financial commitment, making entertainment more accessible and budget-friendly.
Diverse Content Offerings: One might assume that "free" equals "limited" when it comes to content. However, these platforms often boast a vast library of shows, movies, and other content, spanning genres, eras, and even languages. FAST platforms have something for every viewer, from classic films to reality TV and international cinema.
User-friendly Interfaces and Easy Accessibility: FAST platforms understand the digital age's audience. They prioritize intuitive interfaces that even the least tech-savvy users can navigate with ease. Moreover, accessibility is a key focus. Whether you're on a smart TV, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, FAST platforms ensure a seamless viewing experience across devices.
In essence, FAST is transforming the streaming landscape, offering viewers a no-strings-attached entertainment solution without compromise on quality or variety.
Benefits for Advertisers
In the evolving landscape of television and digital media, FAST platforms present more opportunities for advertisers.
Targeted Advertising Opportunities: Leveraging user data and viewing habits, these platforms allow advertisers to serve ads tailored to specific demographics, interests, and behaviors.
Real-time Analytics and Feedback: The digital backbone of FAST platforms offers a significant advantage: instant feedback. Advertisers can monitor how their ads are performing in real-time, gaining insights into view counts, engagement rates, and more. This immediate feedback loop allows for on-the-fly adjustments. If an ad isn't resonating as expected, tweaks can be made promptly, ensuring optimal performance. It's a dynamic approach that traditional TV advertising could only dream of.
Broader Reach Compared to Traditional TV: While traditional TV has its merits, its reach is often limited by geographical constraints and channel preferences. FAST platforms, on the other hand, are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. This global reach ensures that ads have the potential to be seen by a diverse and expansive audience. Moreover, as cord-cutting becomes more prevalent, FAST platforms are capturing a growing segment of viewers who've moved away from traditional TV, offering advertisers access to an audience that might otherwise be hard to reach.
What this means is that FAST platforms are not just reshaping the viewing experience; they're also revolutionizing the advertising game. With targeted, data-driven strategies and an expansive reach, they're offering brands a platform where their message is not just seen, but truly heard and engaged with.
According to Vaibhav Gupta, AdTech expert and co-founder, Bonfire, "In 2022, the United States saw $20.69 billion invested in connected TV (CTV) advertising. Experts anticipate this figure to double by 2027, reaching an impressive $40.9 billion. Advertisers are gearing up to pour even more resources into FAST platforms because they see the opportunity to connect with a vast and attentive audience."
Srini KA, in a LinkedIn post summed it up saying, “Perhaps we should be asking: How does FAST learn from cable’s flaws and Tik Tok’s & YouTube’s triumph? Viewers – Gen Z and millennials in particular – enjoy the skippable ads on Youtube and the creator-driven merchandising on Tik Tok. Relevance is the common denominator. If a viewer continues watching an ad, even when presented with the opportunity to skip, you know you’ve hit the right note.”
Major Players in the FAST Landscape
The FAST ecosystem is bustling with platforms vying for viewer attention. Here's a look at some of the frontrunners:
Acquired by ViacomCBS, Pluto TV has rapidly grown to become one of the most recognized names in the FAST arena. With a diverse lineup of channels curated from various content creators.
Diverse Channel Lineup: From news and sports to movies and kids' content, Pluto TV covers a broad spectrum.
ViacomCBS Content: Being under the ViacomCBS umbrella, Pluto TV has access to a rich library of content from networks like MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central.
International Presence: Pluto TV has expanded its services to various countries, tailoring its content offerings to local tastes.
A Fox Corporation-owned platform, Tubi boasts a vast library of movies and TV shows. It differentiates itself by offering a massive selection of titles without the need for registration or subscription.
Extensive Library: Tubi claims to have one of the largest content libraries in the FAST space, with thousands of movies and TV show episodes.
Personalized Recommendations: The platform offers tailored content suggestions based on viewing habits.
Family-friendly Content: Tubi has a dedicated section for kids, ensuring safe and appropriate content for younger viewers.
A joint venture between Charter Communications and Comcast, Xumo Play offers both live and on-demand streaming. It's integrated into various smart TVs, making it easily accessible to viewers.
Channel Plus Feature: For LG smart TV users, Xumo powers the Channel Plus feature, blending traditional TV channels with digital content.
Integrated Experience: Xumo is pre-installed on a range of smart TVs, offering a seamless experience without the need for additional apps or devices.
Diverse Content Partners: From news outlets like NBC News to entertainment channels like Funny or Die, Xumo has a varied content mix.
These are just a few of the major players, the FAST landscape is continually evolving, with new platforms emerging and existing ones expanding their offerings. The common thread? A commitment to providing quality content without the price tag of subscriptions.
Challenges and Concerns
While FAST platforms have seen a surge in popularity, they aren't without challenges and concerns:
Ad Frequency and Repetition: One of the primary gripes viewers have with FAST platforms is the frequency of ads. Unlike subscription-based platforms that offer ad-free viewing, FAST platforms can sometimes bombard viewers with repetitive commercials, leading to viewer fatigue and annoyance.
Competition with Subscription-Based Platforms: The streaming landscape is crowded. FAST platforms are not just competing amongst themselves but also with giants like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. These subscription-based platforms have deep pockets and a head start, making it challenging for FAST platforms to carve out a significant market share.
Quality of Content Offerings: While FAST platforms boast extensive libraries, there's a perception that they lack the blockbuster titles or high-quality original content that subscription platforms offer. This can make it harder to attract viewers looking for the latest and greatest in entertainment.
The Future of FAST
According to Morsy Cheikhrouhou, Strategic Advisor and streaming tech expert, “The explosion of digital content is only at its Day 1. Over half of this content is the result of conversions of analog film and tapes to digital libraries. This conversion reflects the industry's massive push to repurpose vast libraries of content for monetization through Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST) and Advertising Video on Demand (AVOD) platforms.”
The horizon looks promising for FAST. Vaibhav Gupta elaborates, "With the help of advanced data analytics and AI-driven targeting, they'll be able to deliver ads that feel tailor-made for each viewer. Moreover, interactive formats like games and shoppable ads are set to make the viewer's experience more engaging than ever before. It's an exciting time for FAST!".
Potential Mergers and Acquisitions: As the FAST landscape matures, we can expect larger media conglomerates to acquire successful FAST platforms, aiming to diversify their offerings and tap into the growing viewer base.
The Role of Original Content in Attracting Viewers: Original content has been a game-changer for subscription platforms. To compete effectively, FAST platforms might start investing in original shows and movies, aiming to pull viewers with exclusive content that can't be found elsewhere.
As cord-cutting continues and viewers seek cost-effective entertainment solutions, the FAST industry is poised for significant growth. The appeal of free content, combined with the flexibility of digital streaming, makes FAST an attractive proposition for many viewers.
The rise of FAST is more than just a trend; it's a testament to the ever-evolving nature of the TV industry. As viewers seek more control over their content and their finances, FAST platforms are stepping in to fill the gap, offering a blend of traditional TV and modern streaming. While challenges exist, the potential for growth and innovation is immense.
So, dear reader, have you explored the world of FAST? It's a journey into the future of television, and the best part? It's on the house!