Thriving in the FAST lane

Free Ad-Supported Television revenues are soaring and is predicted to generate $12bn by 2027 according to Omdia, DTVE explores the strategies required to prosper in the FAST space.

For content owners, the emergence of the ad-supported FAST ecosystem looks like a significant opportunity to generate new revenues. But what exactly does it take to play successfully in this fast-evolving space? The message from those already active in FAST is that there is more to it than simply putting a bunch of archive shows on the internet.

As a basic rule, All3Media International EVP strategic development Gary Woolf says you need a minimum of 100 hours of content – and the ability to refresh the line-up periodically. Any less than this and a better option might be to license content to a third-party channel under a revenue share agreement. The exception might be an incredibly strong content franchise – though in reality, such a brand would probably be better off going down an AVOD route; or being monetised through a more broad-based content licensing programme. To this point, Woolf says: “Our FAST activity is part of a joined-up plan and fits in with our windowing strategies – it’s not an activity we’re doing in isolation from the rest of All3Media International. We make sure FAST fits in with the rest of the distribution plan to drive the best revenues for our producers.”

Blue Ant Media president, global channels and media, Jamie Schouela, says 100 hours of content is only the starting point. Schouela is responsible for BAM’s networks across all platforms and has been driving the company’s rollout across FAST. “Currently, we have five channels including Love Nature (natural history), Haunt TV (paranormal), Total Crime/Crimetime (true crime), Homeful (home and lifestyle) and HistoryTime (history). Coming into the New Year we’re also planning on launching a couple more to round out the portfolio.”

Jamie Schouela

Not to be underestimated, says Schouela, is the care and attention required: “You need a level of channel management expertise,” he says. “There is an element of curation, of scheduling and so on. You need to think about who your audience is, about audience flow.”

This capability is especially acute now that there are so many channels in FAST – some of which are active in the same genre space. “It’s no different to pay TV,” says Schouela, “You need to think about how you are connecting with the audience and how you are standing out. All of the above means channel operators have to keep evolving their content offering.”

Based on BAM’s experience in FAST, Schouela says: “You need four basic components for your FAST strategy to work properly: clear brands, a level of content exclusivity, a supporting infrastructure, and – if you also have international ambitions – locally relevant content. Audiences in different parts of the world don’t want to watch exactly the same channel.”


One intriguing aspect of the FAST ecosystem is that the composition of channels is much broader than in pay TV. Alongside genre-based channels, for example, there are single IP channels based around single shows (eg Midsomer Murders) or high-profile talent (chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver). Right now, for example, cooking fans can find a Gordon Ramsay channel on Tubi and a Hell’s Kitchen channel on Samsung TV+. For those interested in the single IP route, the best formula seems to be less serialized programming.

So far, BAM has predominantly gone down the genre-based route with its channels. “We do have a strong single franchise channel launching soon,” says Schouela, “but mostly we favour genres. Often, you’ll see a single IP come blasting out the gate and have some short term success – but ultimately we think the genre-based approach has more longevity because you can bring new programming franchises into your schedule and keep refreshing it.”

On this point, it’s probably worth exploring which genres seem to work best in the FAST ecosystem. In September 2022, FAST channel facilitator Amagi released a White Paper in which it identified news, movies, entertainment, crime and sports as the top five genres on FAST. Drilling deeper into the line-ups across 12 of the top platforms in the US, reality, lifestyle and comedy all feature prominently. If there’s one thing to beware, however, it’s that genre-based channels are relatively easy to replicate by rivals. Pluto TV’s family connections make it strong in kids, for example, so here perhaps a single IP channel might be a better idea.

Midsomer Murders

Another genre that seems well-suited to FAST is music, if Vevo’s experience is anything to go by. Like BAM’s Schouela, Vevo SVP of US sales and global distribution Rob Christensen stresses the importance of localisation. But in the case of Vevo’s content he also says there is some evidence that content needs to be tailored to specific platforms as well. “We have a lot of channels based around genres and decades and we can see the difference between platforms. On Pluto TV, for example, we generate a lot of interest in our country music channels. On Samsung TV+, they seem to favour pop. So you can’t just rinse and repeat.”

Christensen says music is a good genre when it comes to refreshing channels: “The great thing about FAST is that we can go into our dashboard at any time and rotate the programming. When the Brits or Grammys come around, we can introduce relevant content. If there’s an anniversary or someone passes, we can deliver relevant programming in realtime.”

In terms of advice to would-be channel operators, he stresses the importance of content discovery. “We’re fortunate because we have a strong presence on YouTube which can support our activity in FAST. If you don’t have that you need a strong plan for how you’re going to get an audience to watch your channel ahead of hundreds of others.”

Business models

In terms of required skillsets, Fremantle International CEO Jens Richter says the last 18-24 months has been a learning curve for the company as it has built up its FAST capabilities. “As a leading content distributor, we had the infrastructure to handle areas like clearing rights and checking/securing local language versions. Channel curation was quite new for us and we also needed to develop our expertise in marketing, promotions and data analysis. But once you’ve done all the curation tasks it becomes a syndication business and that’s where you need a facilitator like Amagi. If we want our Baywatch channel on six platforms in the US, four in the UK – and then also in France, Israel and Australia that’s where they become important.”

Other facilitators include Harmonic, which devised its VOS360 platform to help content owners create FAST channels easily. This platform includes a scheduler to help content owners visually build their content into an original linear channel, with automation tools. According to Harmonic, key questions for would-be channel operators include whether to launch via one of the major FAST platforms or go it alone. While the former means sharing revenue, it does offer greater audience scale and a technically simple solution.

Going it alone, of course, is an option if platforms aren’t interested in carrying a company’s channels. IP owners with pre-existing scale in social media could drive audiences towards FAST channels via their own apps (building on the point made by Christensen). Alternatively, there are new models emerging such as FAST Channels TV, a white label OTT platform that is home to around 200 FAST channels and currently has around 43 partner platforms.

Assuming the channel owner goes down the platform route, another big question is whether to take a share of ad revenue share or ad inventory. The former route hands the responsibility to the platform, while the latter requires the channel owner (or a third party) to sell ads. Handing responsibility to the platform is an easy option, but not always the best one, says Vevo’s Christensen. “It’s part of our strategy to control our own inventory because it means we can control our overall channel environment”. Possible benefits of controlling ad inventory include: selecting which advertisers are most appropriate, choosing the ad load which feels right for the audience, and building a direct rapport with brands. The latter then opens up an opportunity to create brand content and sponsorship collaborations.

Making headway

Looking ahead, one key question is whether FAST channels will need to up their game in some way to retain their value to the platforms. Creating original content specifically for FAST channels is probably some way down the road – even in the US. But All3Media’s Woolf says there is a shift towards low-cost quick turnaround production that can be used to support existing programming. “We’ve done shoots with talent like actor John Nettles and gardener/presenter Monty Don to support special features on FAST channels. On our Midsomer Murders FAST channel, we have had John introducing his ten favourite episodes from the series.”

Speaking at Content London 2022, Mark Garner, EVP, global content sales and business development, A+E Networks, said the industry needs to adopt a “broader interpretation of the meaning of original” as it works out how to add value in the FAST ecosystem. Pointing out that a lot of content that has been shown on pay TV platforms has not yet been seen outside of that sector, he said: “a show is always original to someone who hasn’t seen it yet. So FAST is really about taking advantage of content investments we’ve already made.”

Courtesy of BellatorIn terms of additional guidance to IP owners, Pluto TV EVP and general manager Olivier Jollet says some content owners make the mistake of thinking FAST is “just about old content. Nostalgia can work, but the FAST ecosystem is also home to a lot of fresh content. In the Nordics, our platform is currently showing live MMA action from Bellator.”

If all of the above is starting to sound like an expensive long-term commitment, then it’s worth noting that FAST does lend itself to more tactical business models – such as pop up and seasonal channels. For companies that are primarily in the content distribution business, FAST channels might be a useful marketing exercise – showcasing decommissioned franchises in the hope that they may be sparked back into life as tape sales or event formats.

Shaun Keeble, VP digital, Banijay Rights makes another intriguing point, which is that FAST also provides “real-time granular data about what content is working when. That data is something that companies like Banijay can feed back into content decision-making.”

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