‘FAST Is Now’: Why Free Ad-Supported TV Is Rising | Video

TheGrill 2023: “It’s projected to reach $6 billion in revenue in 2023, with double that in coming years,” says Pluto TV’s global SVP Valerie Kaplan

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In the ongoing battle for streaming supremacy, a surprising contender has emerged in the form of FAST channels — free ad-supported streaming television, a hybrid of the new and the old.

According to Pluto TV’s global SVP and head of consumer marketing Valerie Kaplan, FAST isn’t the future, it’s the present tense.

“I think FAST is now,” Kaplan told TheWrap’s co-executive editor Adam Chitwood during a panel titled FAST Forward Thinking: Innovations and Strategies in Ad-Supported Streaming Wednesday at TheGrill, the publication’s annual business conference.

She continued, “It’s projected to reach $6 billion in revenue in 2023, with double that in coming years.”

On the panel, Kaplan was joined by Patrick Courtney, Fuse Media’s head of digital and business development; Beth Anderson, BBC Studios SVP and GM of FAST Channels; Jennifer Vaux, the VP of content acquisition and programming at Roku Media; and Lindsay Stewart, the VP of FAST and AVOD revenue strategy at AMC Networks.

The likes of Pluto and Tubi are absolutely streaming platforms, but they are free to the audience with revenues mostly coming from periodic advertisements during a show or film instead of subscription fees. According to Samba TV’s latest State of Viewership report, one in three U.S. users subscribe to FAST services.

Not a replacement, but a supplement

The panelists were hesitant to argue that FAST channels were intended to supplant paid streaming services or that it was merely a reinvention of cable. In their eyes, it’s a supplement for those trying to prune their monthly streaming bills.

“Linear never went away,” stated Anderson. “The idea of paying an enormous sum of money every month for the year has become less popular as we move to a model where we look to the audience to choose the type of time they want to spend with it, and the devices they want to interact with.”

The initial hook of streaming was the idea of having everything you wanted to watch at the touch of a button for a low monthly price. However, the deluge of studios launching their own streaming platforms, as well as raising prices as Wall Street changed their minds in early 2022 about valuing subscription counts over profits and revenue, means that the average consumer can’t get everything they want from the streaming ecostystem for cheap.

Kaplan said, “When you contrast that with all the price hikes across SVOD services, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to sustain that ultimate bundle or package of streamers.”

She further stated that she felt that FAST was “a perfect supplement and complement to those two or three core services that that audiences are paying for.”

All partipants agreed that success in the ad-free subscription video on demand realm wasn’t necessarily superior to success within the FAST (or less expensive ad-tiered SVOD) ecosystem. The goal isn’t necessarily to convert every FAST consumer into an eventual SVOD subscriber.

Different goals for different ecosystems

Anderson noted that “you can have the ability to push to a subscriber acquisition, that having that as the one-dimensional final goal for everything is very limited, because you will ultimately find people who just don’t want that subscription.”

However, Stewart said that “there’s a natural synergy between consumption of content, we have different windows of contents, or FAST base, relative to SVOD in a year.”

Anderson also discussed the ways in which the goals of a FAST channel (or multiple FAST channels in one service) can differ from that of an SVOD platform.

“I don’t necessarily want to fit everyone who comes down to this experience,” Anderson said. “But I want the people who find this to love it and come back.”

As she explained, it’s less about broadly appealing content than about having a wide range of content that appealed to specific demographics or fan bases.

Courtney added that Fuse Media’s “channels like Shades of Black or Latino Vibes… do serve specific communities through culturally relevant content.”

Not lost was the perhaps undervalued, at least in recent years, notion of advertisements as a revenue-generating powerhouse.

“I think there’s there’s a lot of room for innovation as to how advertising looks and feels in an environment like that,” Courtney stated.

Anderson noted that “social media is light-years ahead of the traditional television business in terms of integrating ads within the viewing experience.”

All participants noted that advertising, both as a creative medium and a financial one, is still a force to be reckoned with.

“The Super Bowl stops so ads can play,” stated Anderson. “That’s phenomenal.”

About TheGrill: For more than a decade, TheGrill event series has led the conversation on the convergence of entertainment, media and technology, bringing together newsmakers to debate the challenges of and opportunities for making content in the digital age. TheGrill delivers a unique series of curated discussions, industry panels and networking activations that explore the ever-changing media landscape.

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