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The FAST Channel Revolution: Where TV Innovation Meets Audience Needs

In the ever-evolving world of media, the rise of Free Ad-supported Streaming Television (FAST) channels has become a transformative force, rapidly gaining popularity on a global scale.
March 14, 2024
This innovation not only offers viewers a diverse range of content without any subscription fees but also brings forth a host of advantages for content creators, advertisers, and the media industry at large. 
This article provides insights into the essence of FAST TV, charts the growth of FAST channels, highlights their benefits, delves into their draw for advertisers, and sheds light on the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in localizing FAST content.

What Is FAST TV?

The FAST media phenomenon refers to streaming services that provide content for free, supported by advertising. This is TV reimagined for the current media landscape, providing an alternative to traditional cable or subscription-based models: FAST channels operate on an ad-supported basis, allowing users to enjoy a variety of content without any associated costs. 
Driven by the growing demand for quality content and the proliferation of streaming services, FAST channels have become a significant player in the TV industry. The surge in popularity of FAST channels has been remarkable, with the revenue boosted by 20 times between 2019 and 2022. Media giants and niche content creators alike have embraced the FAST model, introducing dedicated channels to cater to the evolving interests of viewers.
According to Omdia's research, FAST channels’ growth sustained the early pandemic period, and this market is growing at a steady clip. While the US dominates as the place where FAST media was invented and continues spilling into the English-speaking markets (the UK, Canada), a shift is anticipated, with outside markets like Brazil and Germany creating a $1.6 billion revenue opportunity by 2027. The total global FAST market is projected to reach an impressive $12 billion in the next 3 years, showcasing the expansive reach of FAST TV.

Benefits of FAST channels

From the large picture of projected revenues, let’s move on to the advantages FAST media presents for producers. FAST channels seamlessly blend the benefits of streaming with the familiarity of traditional TV, capturing audiences that are transitioning and exploring new mediums. This evolution is not only evident in the rise of hundreds of FAST channels but also in the emergence of new media production circuits, highlighting the rapid pace at which content consumption is changing.

Global audience engagement value

In terms of meeting the audiences’ demand for diversity and inclusion in media, FAST channel platforms play a pivotal role in global outreach when they offer unfamiliar programming to new regions and localize media for untapped audiences globally. Because viewers respond to the FAST channels' key value proposition of free TV without subscription fees, producers unlock the ability to rapidly scale their audiences. Not only is a diverse audience drawn – there’s also more exploration and sampling of content, with overall growth in viewer engagement through FAST and other platforms where the media is available. 

Monetization models

While various monetization models for business have been developing on FAST platforms, two discrete solutions have been established as the media standard. Revenue-sharing implies that the channel is taking care of the advertising for the media suppliers. This model has been employed by the Roku Channel and PlutoTV, two of the highest-grossing FAST platforms. In the US alone, the FAST media pioneers announced significant revenues: Paramount’s PlutoTV had a reported $1.04 billion ad revenue in 2023, while the Roku Channel brought in $2.19 billion. 
Inventory-sharing, the other notable monetization model, allows the media distributor to negotiate the rights to content distribution with the FAST channel while also selling a percentage of the ad inventory. This means that the ad space is delineated, and the ad revenues are split as pre-negotiated. As of 2023, the aforementioned FAST channels are considering inventory-sharing as a possibility in the future.

Viewer retention

User retention is a major FAST media objective, and channels are experimenting with tools for advertising strategies that are not compromising on user engagement – for instance, a reduced ad load. Even if the viewers are not committing to paid subscriptions or paid platforms as a result of engaging with FAST TV, the free channels themselves are a major and familiar draw for global audiences. 
Advertising itself is becoming more targeted, personalized, and flexible thanks to user data collection. Advertisers grow their ROI by picking the time slots and ad placement that is relevant for their target audiences. For the FAST viewers, the ad loads are manageable and lighter than on traditional TV. This way, it’s natural to return to their familiar platform for trending content, new releases, and beloved media alike.

Data-driven decisions

Data analytics are at the heart of FAST channel success, propelling this model to new heights. Through the utilization of advanced data analytic tools, viewer behavior is tracked in real time, empowering channels to make informed decisions in both their content programming and advertising for greater user satisfaction, leading to maximizing revenues. Consequently, partnering with data-informed FAST media consistently yields profits for the whole media ecosystem, as the viewer engagement grows and ad targeting becomes more precise. 

Capital efficiency

The cost-effective nature of launching and operating a FAST channel, with minimal upfront costs and a model that repurposes existing content, makes this venture highly cost-efficient. Quick release turnaround and low operational costs yield a more immediate return on production investment.
While the media landscape is competitive, those who leverage it with skill find the FAST channels valuable, as they offer a compelling path to profitability, driven by robust advertising revenues, diversified income streams, and operational efficiency. Staying agile and keeping an eye to the future can help content distributors outpace their competitors.

Worldwide Reach via FAST

Tech giants have been involved in the FAST industry since early on; companies like LG, Samsung, and Roku are integrating FAST channels on their Smart TV platforms. Meanwhile, FAST TV has been endorsed by global media production companies, with offerings like Amazon Freevee and Fox’s Tubi. This buy-in has been the driving force behind FAST expansion worldwide. 
A famous success story on another vector is the case of Pluto TV, a pioneering FAST platform developed by Paramount Global as an alternative to their streaming channel, Paramount+. Pluto TV’s growth has been driven by meeting the demand in a unique FAST way we’d addressed: Pluto TV made beloved shows and franchises easy to access and binge, building up on the established tradition of cable re-runs (which were notably less reliable for audiences).
Pluto TV hit 72 million active monthly users in 2022 and was on track to almost double that amount by 2025. Recently, Pluto TV has been growing exponentially and demonstrated an annual revenue of over $1 billion, as it’s expanded to over 35 markets.

AI Localization for FAST: the Perfect Fit for Speed and Personalization

As previously discussed, FAST channel creation boasts a low capital investment. This is primarily due to the model encouraging and maximizing the repurposing of pre-existing media and web content. Consequently, FAST facilitates a speedy return on investment, yielding revenues almost from the get-go. 
Notably, media producers and distributors are considering scaling up their revenues by repurposing their content libraries beyond the original target audience. Through FAST, content could be distributed globally, provided producers and distributors adopt an efficient localization strategy. 
Addressing the challenge of localization across multiple target languages has been made manageable by established AI solutions. Platforms such as Dubformer offer AI tools that not only streamline but also accelerate video content localization, thereby ensuring global access and unlocking monetization opportunities through FAST. 
Today, FAST TV channels represent a market revolution and meet the need for a wide range of platforms that match diverse audiences’ demand for individualized media. With an international reach, technological integration, and innovative AI-driven localization strategies, FAST TV ensures a continuous stream of diverse and engaging content for viewers worldwide, reinforcing the role of FAST channel platforms in shaping the future of entertainment.
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