Haymi Behar, chief marketing officer of SPI International talks about the company’s transition to FAST, along with the technical and content requirements to make an impact in the market.
Why did SPI International/Filmbox recently take the decision to enter the FAST market?
Platforms that offer FAST services have proliferated in the past couple of years, especially in the US, with all the major cable providers investing in FAST/AVOD platforms. Viewing habits have been changing drastically in the crowded SVOD market in the US as subscription-fatigued viewers search for more low-cost entertainment options. Recent research indicates AVOD will double in value between 2020 and 2025, to $53.5 billion, versus 59% for SVOD (to $97.5 billion) and more than half (53%) of U.S. consumers with broadband now sometimes tune into FAST platforms.
The popularity of FAST services has risen exponentially during the pandemic when TV production halted and viewers tuned in to streaming services more than ever due to lockdowns. Though traditional TV proves to be more resilient in Europe for now, FASTs are slowly making their way there through major players in the industry and their popularity will only continue to grow in the foreseeable future, especially since FASTs provide a digitalized solution to linear TV – adapting the lean-back approach of TV viewing to the digital world by utilizing the latest advancements in technology.
The increasing popularity of FASTs shows that there is a lot of potential in this realm for experienced content aggregators and distributors like SPI, as it allows us to create appealing FAST channels geared towards the platforms’ interests by utilizing our existing and ever-expanding catalog of content with programming across all genres such as movies, series, documentaries, lifestyle, and more at low costs.
What is the extent of your current FAST offering and how do you see it evolving over the next one or two years?
Currently, we offer two sought-after FAST channels Filmstream and Docustream running on multiple major platforms across the world such as Pluto TV, Samsung TV Plus, Rakuten TV, and Amazon’s IMDb TV.
Filmstream offers independent world cinema gems and classic movies from iconic directors such as Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Fellini, and many others. Docustream presents a rich collection of fascinating, award-winning documentaries and TV programming exploring the mysteries and beauty of our planet. Fashionstream is also available via Pluto TV which presents the hottest fashion shows and latest fashion trends. All channels can be localized depending on the needs of the FAST platform provider.
We are planning on expanding our FAST channels offering with at least two more channels very soon so stay tuned.
What do you see as the key ingredients to developing a commercially successful FAST channel proposition?
Unique and compelling content is key in making a FAST channel stand out in the increasingly crowded offerings as the audience of niche content tends to seek it out and reward the provider with views for good programming that caters to their interests.
Another important aspect to consider in order to develop a commercially successful FAST channel is discoverability, especially if your channel is in the hands of the major players in the market. It is important to develop and cultivate relationships with the client to better understand their and their viewers’ expectations, and what you can do to meet these expectations in the best way possible. When your content is promoted on their platforms, you can get more eyeballs to your content which is beneficial for both the channel and the FAST service provider. B2B relationships lie at the heart of all of our operations at SPI and joint marketing activities are a great way to increase channel discoverability and viewership.
What do you see as the main barriers to entry – commercial, operational, and technical – in the FAST market?
I would say, there are a couple of barriers to entry for newcomers. Creating and running these channels requires technical know-how and access to the necessary technical infrastructure. FAST is not like linear TV where there is an industry-standard for delivery. Therefore you have to navigate through the platforms’ needs to keep the costs down. In addition, you need to make sure that you have a compelling library of content to start with which can be used to create appealing, curated channels.
Discoverability and reaching a wider audience can also be difficult if you do not already have a digital presence (i.e. your own streaming platform) or partnerships with established platforms. There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these methods of delivery. Delivering the channel through your own streaming service gives you more control over what you broadcast and transparency of data but it means that you will need to drive all the views yourself which can be difficult if your service doesn’t have a large reach. Forming alliances with established platforms can be more beneficial since it allows you to tap into their audience for views and they can sell ads on a greater scale than most individual channels but it also means more competition within the platform as these platforms continuously add new channels to their offering. Having good content and promoting that content through various marketing activities, in this case, can boost viewership and distinguish your channel from the others.
What for you were the main requirements for building a FAST offering in terms of putting together the appropriate content rights?
We usually acquire all-encompassing content rights to make sure we can use the programming that we license in all of our different products delivered through different methods like SVOD, AVOD, TVOD, and linear.
What are you doing to make the content and channels visible and discoverable to consumers and to build viewing time? How significant a challenge is this?
As I previously mentioned, investing in your channel in terms of content curation and the promotion of that content is crucial to stand out in the large bouquet of channels available through the FAST platform providers. The platforms that carry your channels determine the channel placement and marketing priority. In order to build viewing time, it is important to maintain a good relationship and be in constant communication with the platform and adjust your channel scheduling according to their expectations when needed.
We always plan our programming schedules ahead of time and make sure that the platform executives have a say in what will be broadcast. For example, starting in December, Pluto TV Filmstream will broadcast movies revolving around a different theme for each month for which we will be preparing specialized promos to entice viewers to check out our channel. It also helps a lot when platforms highlight your channel in their Featured sections or provide you with higher placement in their EPGs making yours one of the first channels the viewer sees when they tune in to the platform.
All kinds of in-platform content promotion become crucial for boosting viewership and our dynamic marketing team prepares special promos, banners, or other relevant marketing materials as requested by platforms to use for such promotions. We also collaborate with platforms on social media marketing campaigns to drive channel viewership.
What were the main technical requirements in terms of channel origination, the advertising platform, and integrating with multiple FAST platform providers and streaming platforms?
It is very important to pick the right technical delivery/playout platform when deploying FAST channels, especially if you are delivering your channel to multiple FAST platform providers at the same time. It is fairly easy to deploy a FAST channel when you are using a playout platform with an infrastructure that supports FAST channel deliveries by automizing scheduling and managing dynamic ad insertion, all of which help minimize the workforce that would otherwise be required to operate multiple feeds manually.
Technical requirements for delivery may vary depending on the FAST platform, therefore it’s important to find a flexible playout platform partner to cater to each individual FAST provider’s needs. The ad sales for our channels are generally done by the FAST providers themselves so, for us, collaborating with a playout platform that can seamlessly onboard our channels onto the FAST platforms remains the most important.
How different are consumption patterns for your FAST offering with your premium TV services?
Our FAST channels provide us with quick, real-time data regarding viewership which allows us to customize the content flow accordingly. We are able to see which content is preferred more in which territory and can curate the channels to cater to viewer demands. In addition, AVOD and FASTs are consumed by a relatively younger audience that can have niche interests when compared to viewers who tune in to our pay-TV channels. Therefore specialized channels that feature programming related to independent movies, documentaries, gaming and etc. tend to do well.
FAST channels are largely consumed on connected devices like sticks/boxes and smart TVs which dominate viewing time. As more and more households opt to give up their costly cable services for more cost-effective entertainment options, FASTs will increase their reach and it is crucial to provide a compelling curation of content to win those viewers.
What makes for a good partnership with a FAST platform provider and how can that relationship work to the advantage both of platform owner and content rightsholder?
A good partnership with a FAST platform provider requires strong communication and working together to promote the content to get more viewers to tune into your channel. The longer your content is watched the more ad revenue it will generate which is beneficial for both the channel and the FAST service provider. In order to make sure a channel is watched for longer periods of time, the channel provider and the FAST provider should work together to come up with engaging marketing strategies to spark curiosity in the viewers by, for example, organizing seasonal or thematic campaigns and introducing exclusive content that the viewer can’t find anywhere else. Both parties should be open and willing to collaborate on finding ways to promote the channel in the best way possible for maximum gain and a good curation within the channel always helps.
How do you see the FAST market evolving over the next couple of years and what do you need to do to take maximum advantage?
The AVOD market is expected to double in terms of revenues in the next 2 years, evident in the fact that viewers are seeking out more low-cost and less cumbersome entertainment options. According to research, six in ten (58%) of streamers in the U.S feel that ads are “a fair price” for being able to watch TV content for free. In addition, the sheer number of SVOD platforms and the on-demand content available is overwhelming for most viewers to the point that 44% say they often have a hard time finding something to watch. The quick adoption of FASTs indicates that audiences still cherish the lean-back, hassle-free viewing experience reminiscent of traditional TV with the added bonus of lower ad loads.
As viewing trends change and evolve, the FAST market will not only become an integral part of the consumer’s life but also that of the advertisers. Considering that a full 50% of time spent among 18-34-year-olds is on streamed content and merely 18% of their time is spent watching traditional TV, FAST is on the way to becoming an important asset for advertisers who would like to reach the younger demographic that is practically unreachable via linear TV.
When all of this is considered, collaborating with the right playout and FAST platforms and providing the right content mix with strong curation is critical to garner the attention of viewers. We have a large catalog of thematic and exclusive content and our strategy for the coming months is to utilize this library to create customized channels for different tastes to increase our footprint in the FASTs realm and differentiate our channels from the others in the market.
It is safe to say that, FASTs are still finding their place within the crowded market and that there is a lot of room for exploration. Maybe in the future, they will also show original content in a separate windowing and we might, one day, put FAST channels on our FilmBox+ service in front of the paywall – all of these options are worth considering as adding to the SVOD model makes the experience richer and doesn’t take away from it. The consumption habits and consumer demands will inevitably shape how the FAST technology evolves.
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