Srinivasan KA, Co-founder, Amagi
The demand for free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) has exploded over the past few years, with virtually no sign of slowing. Variety Intelligence Platform (VIP+) Analysis predicts that FAST ad revenue will rise from between $3.5 and $4 billion in 2022 to between $5.3 and $6.1 billion in 2025. Moreover, Amagi’s most recent consumer report found that nearly one-third of American households said they would cut their TV subscriptions first in an economic downturn, with almost two-thirds of that group saying they would switch to FAST. The reason is simple: When subscription rates and pay-TV services chip away at already fragile consumer budgets, consumers will simply turn to platforms that stream their favorite content free-of-charge, yet with ad support.
The FAST ecosystem opens opportunities for transformation in the streaming industry both technologically and socially. With increasing cloud-based virtualization, specialists from all over the world can now collaborate to provide new features, solutions, and services. Moreover, the ability of FAST technology to drive effortless playout support and dynamic ad opportunities allows content creators or providers of all sizes to spin up FAST channels almost instantaneously and to generate immediate ad revenue to keep their work going. This model can be particularly beneficial for smaller or niche creators that might otherwise go overlooked by the mainstream VOD and traditional linear television markets.
For these reasons, the FAST ecosystem has become a site of convergence for different skill sets and cultures — a center for business evolution, content democratization, and diverse representation.
FAST: Traditional TV Viewership, New and Improved
The demand for FAST resembles a return to the traditional format of TV viewership. Like over-the-air and cable TV channels, FAST channels offer fixed programming, schedules, and advertising to viewers, but with much shorter ad breaks that are tailored to their interests. (The difference between FAST channels and cable TV, of course, is that the content on FAST is supported by ads rather than monthly subscriptions or pay-TV fees.) And it’s that linear distribution model that differentiates FAST from advertising-supported video on demand (AVOD).
FAST channels not only eliminate fees but also mitigate concerns over the collection and use of data to make personalized content recommendations. With their linear content offerings, they deliver endless streams of ad-supported content to connected devices. Nevertheless, FAST platforms can still improve content discoverability in two fundamental ways:
1. Unbundling Individual Channels: By unbundling a standard package into individual channels, FAST providers give content a better chance at reaching a broader audience while keeping viewers engaged.
2. Using Content-Based Personalization: FAST providers can implement personalization that more accurately reflects viewers’ interests by basing recommendations on the content they are currently watching rather than on their user profiles. This use of content metadata instead of personal information also ensures viewers’ privacy.
In taking these steps, FAST providers can open the way for consumer adoption on an even greater scale.
FAST as a Vehicle for Transformation
For viewers, FAST can reduce financial concerns, enable effortless viewing, make content more discoverable, and improve privacy. But the ability for creators, providers, distributors, and advertisers to converge, collaborate, and monetize through FAST is what makes the format so transformational. These stakeholders now have the tools to interact creatively and freely while making their services readily accessible and discoverable to audiences.
The collaborative space enabled by FAST has the potential to drive business evolution, and this can happen for any enterprise, whether it’s a larger broadcaster or smaller content creator.
A large broadcaster that has been in business for decades can now effortlessly transition its offerings to cloud-supported FAST channels, where they have a better chance of reaching new audiences and augmenting existing ad revenues. Additionally, the monetization strategies offered through FAST can help breathe life into a broadcaster’s older properties, allowing viewers to return to beloved classics while generating new revenue.
Small creators that today produce videos for viewing primarily on social media platforms could tomorrow run their content through FAST platforms on CTVs. Many creators already have a widely diverse content portfolio that they could license through third-party distribution platforms. With just a bit of technological help, these small creators could launch their own FAST channels for immediate viewing on CTVs.
The many opportunities for ad support through FAST can also provide additional financial security for small creators. They would no longer need to rely on strong viewership and completion rates that act as primary metrics for many VOD services to decide whether a piece of content stays, gets renewed, or drops entirely. By running in the same streams as other content, they also increase their chances of discovery; content in these streams is much more likely to gain attention than as stand-alone titles.
By supporting the growth of the FAST phenomenon and making workflows more cost-efficient, cloud technologies have helped create a level playing field for content creators of all sizes. The FAST ecosystem gives every participant a fair chance of finding an audience. In turn, every audience finds content suited to their taste and preferences. Viewer retention depends on content quality, not accessibility to the platform. For advertisers, FAST provides opportunities to expand audience reach and offer better targeted content.
FAST also allows niche content to thrive. The growth of FAST in markets outside the U.S., such as in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, opens up new arenas in which content brands can create, distribute, and monetize channels. At the same time, the discoverability and accessibility of content through FAST allows people from all over the world to interact with cultures they might have otherwise overlooked.
Moreover, communities that have long gone underrepresented or that traditionally have lacked representation in mainstream TV can find their place in FAST. Creators can leverage this collaborative environment to license their content through third-party FAST channels or spin up exclusive channels of their own. Taking advantage of content democratization, these groups can enjoy greater creative control and financial success, while their audiences can enjoy greater accessibility to richer, more representative media.
How the FAST Marketplace Drives Collaboration and Innovation
Overall, the FAST phenomenon has gained firm ground in the streaming ecosystem, becoming one of the fastest-growing segments of the video industry. Over the past few years, Amagi has added more than 300 content brands to its cloud platform, totaling over 500 in 2022. Globally, with 50-plus partnerships in FAST and 100-plus partnerships in other categories, the company has provided nearly 2 billion ad opportunities every month by supporting OTT ad insertion for 1,000-plus channels.
Content creators with limited experience in spinning up in-house FAST channels can connect with an engineer who can provide them with the necessary tools and technical support from anywhere. Conversely, distributors who already have prepared channels can reach out to numerous creators and providers with playout support and ad insertion solutions. These partnerships are born and facilitated in Amagi’s FAST Marketplace.
While linear and on-demand television will not disappear, FAST will continue to prove itself as a free-to-air TV format that provides greater opportunities to leverage ad support. Ongoing technological innovations for spinning up linear channels, distributing it to leading FAST platforms, and generating ad revenues will lead to greater transformations across the industry and beyond.