In recent years, we’ve seen the start of a seismic shift in the direction of free ad-supported streaming TV services (FAST), a relatively new OTT video distribution model for television and film video content.
As users begin to feel overwhelmed by the huge content libraries available on subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, frustrated over the number of subscriptions required to keep up with their favorite content, and conscious of risings costs, FAST platforms are offering audiences an alternative that’s convenient, free, and styled after the familiar experience of watching linear TV.
Here, we take a closer look at free ad-supported streaming TV, its rising popularity, and how service providers can increase FAST viewer engagement to grow their revenue and compete successfully in the OTT video streaming marketplace.
What is FAST?
Free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) is an OTT video distribution model where audiences can stream television content for free over the Internet and content is monetized with paid advertisements.
Streaming video content over the Internet means that viewers can watch their favorite shows from any device, including computers and laptops, tablet devices, mobile phones, and Smart or Connected TVs. The FAST experience is similar to traditional broadcast or Pay TV, where content is presented in a linear format and programming is set by the distributors.
Today’s FAST service providers offer a mix of Live TV channels (especially local and national news) and thematic FAST channels featuring original or licensed TV and film content.
Founded in 2013, Pluto TV was one of the first FAST services to launch in the United States. The service was acquired in 2019 by Viacom, who planned to use it as a distribution channel for in-house content and a marketing channel for Viacom-owned SVOD services like Showtime and Paramount+.
Since the launch of Pluto TV, the introduction of new FAST platforms has become one of the hottest OTT trends. Here is a list of some of the top free streaming television providers:
- Peacock (owned by NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast),
- Tubi (owned by Fox),
- Freevee (owned by Amazon, formerly known as IMDB TV),
- Samsung TV Plus (owned by Samsung),
- The Roku Channel (owned by Roku Inc.),
- Xumo (owned by Comcast),
- Plex (owned by Plex Inc.), and
- Sling Free (owned by Dish Network)
The FAST Monetization Challenge: Viewer Engagement
Maximizing viewer engagement is a critical success factor for FAST service providers competing for market share in the increasingly crowded OTT media industry.
Ad-funded OTT video streaming services (including both FAST and AVOD) earn revenue based on the quantity and value of ad placements they can sell. This is inextricably linked to the size of their audiences and the volume of content consumed by those audiences on a monthly basis: a larger and more engaged audience watches more hours of content per unit time, yielding more opportunities for FAST platforms to display ads and earn revenue.
To effectively monetize their digital content, FAST platforms don’t just need more sign-ups or more users – they need to generate more hours of viewership by successfully engaging and delighting their audiences. Let’s take a closer look at six strategies FAST platforms can use to increase viewer engagement.
Six Tactics for Increasing FAST Viewer Engagement
1) Offer Niche and Nostalgic Content
All OTT video streaming services compete for viewership and engagement by offering content that appeals to a target audience.
But while high-budget, premium, and mass marketable content continues to find its way to established SVOD platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and HBO Max, free ad-supported streaming TV platforms are growing audiences by delivering niche and nostalgic content on dedicated FAST channels.
Take Pluto TV for example: the platform offers dedicated channels where users can binge watch classic television shows like The Addams Family, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Doctor Who, and Midsomer Murders.
On Samsung TV Plus, viewers can tune in to dedicated channels for everything from classic Western films and Japanese Anime to reality TV re-runs of Hell’s Kitchen or Project Runway. There’s also plenty of niche sports content on channels like Pac-12 Insider (college sports), IMPACT Wrestling (nostalgic wrestling entertainment), and T2 (tennis).
Focusing on content with niche audiences and resurrecting nostalgic content is a competitive advantage for FAST platforms seeking to drive engagement by differentiating themselves from both linear Pay TV and video-on-demand subscription services.
2) Release FAST Originals
Up until now, free ad-supported streaming TV providers have primarily expanded their line-up of linear channels through partnerships and licensing agreements with content owners.
That’s about to change though, as for the first-time last year we saw FAST streaming platforms Roku, Tubi, and Freevee beginning to commission original movies and TV shows for distribution on their FAST services.
Freevee has signed a deal with Judge Judith Sheindlin (Judge Judy) for a new reality TV court series, the Roku Channel is partnering with Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse to develop seven new culinary channels, and Tubi has already released 30+ original films – primarily in the thriller, rom-com, horror, documentary, and true crime genres.
As the FAST viewing model grows in popularity, FAST TV service providers will compete aggressively to release FAST originals with genuine appeal that attract and engage new audiences.
3) Show Fewer Minutes of Ads
Showing fewer minutes of advertisements while audiences are streaming content is a proven strategy used by FAST and other free streaming services to boost audience engagement. It’s also an important reason why Pay TV subscribers may prefer the viewing experience offered by free ad-supported streaming TV.
In the recently published 13th Edition of Deloitte’s Digital media trends survey, respondents indicated that 6-10 minutes of ads per hour was “about right”, while 15-18 minutes was considered “too much”.
In a 2014 article, aptly titled “Here’s Exactly Why Watching TV Has Gotten So Annoying”, Time magazine reported that “Commercials comprised 14 minutes and 15 seconds of each hour of TV on broadcast networks in 2013, up from 13 minutes and 25 seconds in 2009”. Almost a decade later, Pay TV services continue to deliver between 12 and 18 minutes of advertisements during each hour of television programming.
In contrast, FAST streaming services generally deliver fewer than 10 minutes of ads per hour, and some platforms historically show as little as 2-5 minutes of ads per hour.
4) Optimize Ad Targeting
As a starting point, it’s important to realize that viewers would rather see personalized advertisements that genuinely appeal to their hobbies, goals, or interests. Advertisements are more engaging when they’re effectively targeted, ideally as narrowly as possible.
Ad targeting will continue to improve as FAST platforms collect more individualized viewer data and build relationships with new and diverse advertising partners. A more targeted approach to advertising increases the value of ad placements for the advertiser, allowing free ad-supported streaming TV providers to earn more revenue while showing the same number, or even fewer ads.
5) Improve Content Recommendations
When we think about the vastness of content libraries available on subscription-based VOD services like Netflix and Hulu, we can immediately recognize the importance of a powerful content recommendation engine that helps audiences discover new content and decide what to watch.
From there, it’s easy to imagine how content recommendations could play a role in boosting FAST viewer engagement.
The viewing experience on FAST platforms today feels a lot like traditional Pay TV: a viewer launches the service, then scrolls through hundreds or thousands of channels, searching for something to watch.
As FAST platforms continue to expand their libraries and add new FAST channels, personalized content recommendations can help eliminate some of the friction that audiences experience when searching these platforms for content that appeals to their interests.
6) Experiment with New Features
While business models like Pay TV and even SVOD may be slow to experiment or move away from established best practices, emerging FAST platforms have the flexibility to experiment with innovative features that can engage audiences in new ways.
In addition to personalized content recommendations, it’s time for FAST channels to start experimenting with more direct engagement strategies, including email and push notifications that inform audiences about newly released content in their preferred genres.
Look for continuous UI upgrades that further differentiate FAST, along with simple usability features like saving your most-watched channels to a list of favorites for more convenient access. Group watching, virtual and augmented reality experiences, and interactive live events can also all be part of the future of FAST.
Optimize Your FAST Workflows with Revedia Digital
For organizations monetizing FAST content, our Revedia Digital platform provides automated data ingest and normalization; powerful reporting capabilities transform that data into dynamic reports so that stakeholders from content to finance can get the insight they need to manage, optimize, and predict content performance.
Learn more by watching our on-demand webinar, Revedia Digital FAST Workflows. Our product team explores common challenges for content sellers and provides a demonstration of how Revedia Digital radically optimizes FAST workflows.