Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Competition in the streaming business is growing FAST

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast April 13, 2023

Revenues from free-ad supported TV channels are predicted to triple by 2027 and the battle is on to win the biggest share, says Kate Bulkley

The news at the end of last year that investors were questioning the bottom-line economics of the streaming business was bad enough. But now rapidly rolling out FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV) channels looks like less of a panacea too.

Is FAST the new cable TV? On first look, yes. It offers shelf space for lots of different channels, all with the promise of marrying brands to content as well as the ability to offer premium, paid options for consumers. So far, so traditional cable TV.

But there are key differences – particularly in audiences. FAST audiences are typically younger, cost-sensitive and more tech savvy. They also tend to be more ‘fan-based’, looking for specific programming or even a specific show to watch back to back. And they are omnivores, with an attention span honed by TikTok, meaning they come and go at speed.

They are also, of course, very valuable to advertisers, which is partly why advertising dollars are shifting from linear TV to FAST channels.

FAST is also an ‘innovation product’. As one distributor said to me recently, it’s not just that platforms such as Roku, Samsung, Apple, LG and Amazonare “one step ahead of us”, but that they are in the game for reasons very different from the cable TV channels of old. Just as Prime Video is about bringing people into the vast online Amazon shop, these companies are looking to support their bigger businesses.

A new Omdia report called Understanding Fast, commissioned by Blue Ant International, notes that connected-TV manufacturers including Samsung and LG are blending FAST channels with linear broadcast channels in their programme guides, to “funnel more viewers towards their owned-and-operated FAST services, especially as they become more reliant on their services businesses, rather than hardware, for profitability”.

“FAST may be the future for TV but how media companies can make significant money from it is still being worked out”

In the FAST world, the platforms have the whip hand. They control the data. In many cases, they control the ad inventory. They would also, in a lot of cases, like to control the programming of the FAST channels – and, indeed, more and more of the tech platforms are launching their own FAST channels. These often compete with the FAST channels from studios and producers looking to create a new, monetisable revenue stream for their content.

FAST may be the future for TV but how media companies can make significant money from it is still being worked out. Do you license or do you launch your own FAST channels? Maybe a bit of both. Who controls the advertising inventory and what is the revenue split? Platforms hold the data they are collecting on consumer behaviour, which can undermine rights holders’ ability to optimise how they programme and monetise their FAST channels. And, of course, FAST channel aggregators are starting to emerge.

FAST channels sit at the intersection of linear TV and digital video, so as streaming matures, FAST should capitalise on a consumer and advertiser shift towards premium, ad-supported online video platforms. According to Omdia, FAST channel revenue grew almost 20-fold between 2019 and 2022 globally, and is forecast to triple in value to more than $12bn (£9.75bn) by 2027.

Of course, the lion’s share of growth will be in the US market, which accounted for almost 90% of the global FAST channel market in 2022. But by 2027, that share will drop to 84% – and three of the five largest FAST markets outside of the US will be the UK, Canada and Australia. The UK FAST market alone is predicted to be worth more than $500m (£405m) by 2027.

The good news is that the ‘land grab’ era of FAST channels being launched right and left is pretty much over. Now, the quality of the content, the strength of the brand and how the channel is promoted and marketed are coming into their own.

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Kate Bulkley