One of the big themes of this year’s New Video Frontiers was the resurgence of linear TV formats. While on-demand streaming services have dominated the early days of streaming, publishers and broadcasters are increasingly looking to replicate the traditional linear experience in the streaming world. This has given birth to ‘FAST’ – free ad-supported streaming TV – channels and services.
FASTchannels.tv is one of a number of tech companies that has moved into the space, helping content owners set up. monetise, and distribute FAST channels. VideoWeek spoke with FASTchannels.tv’s CEO and co-founder Russell Foy to hear more about what’s driving interest in FAST, the challenges facing broadcasters and publishers as they set up FAST channels, and how FASTchannels.tv works with media owners.
How has your business evolved since it launched in 2015, and what do you do nowadays?
We’ve changed quite a lot of the years, evolving our products and services based on feedback from our clients. We were originally focused on providing middleware and apps for subscription-based video projects, usually for telcos and cable operators. But over the last 1.5 years we have been focused on FAST ad-based projects and technology. The market has made a massive shift in that direction, and fortunately we made the move in the early days!
To start with we’ve focused on the technology aspect, but we also help media owners with distribution and getting their channels onto FAST platforms, since that’s something they’re often looking for help with.
The latest shift for us is helping to launch FAST channels for different ethnic groups. We started with four packages for English, LATAM, Indian, and African audiences, and are now expanding specifically to French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Arabic-speaking markets.
What role does FASTchannels.tv play in advertising specifically?
As a part of our service to both our content partners and OTT platforms/operator clients, we can provide ad monetisation and ad operation services as a part of our offering. We use AWS MediaTailor as our Server Side Ad Insertion (SSAI) stitcher, SpringServe as ad provider, and work with 37 demand partners with Real Time Bidding RTB.
We can work in several different models including revenue share and inventory split, or alternatively we’re happy just providing the technology and letting our partners handle the ad operations.
There’s a bit of confusion about what FAST actually means – how do you define FAST?
We define it by its acronym: free ad-supported streaming TV. Typically the term refers to linear TV service where ads are delivered via SSAI, but AVOD services sometimes use very similar SSAI technology, meaning the advertising component is technically similar.
What are the primary challenges for content owners you work with when it comes to setting up and running a FAST channel?
The first question is whether they have enough content. Typically, we need 100-300 hours of content to set up a channel, and you want about 10-20 percent of your total content to be refreshed every month. If a media owner partner does not have enough, we connect them with other content partners that have content in the same/similar genre, and encourage them to work together.
There are some exceptions – such as premium content, kids content, and news/sports/entertainment short-form content. For example, you can get away with running the same 2-4 hours of daily news on loop, since that’s what the viewer wants and expects to see. But obviously in that case, the channel still has to create new content every day.
The second big challenge tends to be marketing. We ask our content partners to make a commitment to participate in the process and help with marketing, putting out press releases, and encouraging their audiences to view their channel on new platforms.
We can create the channel, and get the new channels and VOD content placed on our 17+ OTT platform partners, but we can not force users to watch the channel! The content partners need to help create awareness that the channel is “Now available on HeroGoTV.com, etc”, and to further promote those new channels with on-going marketing efforts.
What is driving the high levels of interest in FAST right now?
I there there are a lot of factors driving consumer interest. An obvious one is price – FAST is free, whereas consumers are looking at paying $50-$150 in monthly cable TV fees in the US. And they already have many different options to view content outside of cable TV, on Netflix and the other big streaming services, which are growing in the variety and amount of content they produce. So FAST fits well in the picture, providing that linear experience without the price.
And users want a reliable and high-quality stream, and want to be able to access content on different devices, all of which FAST offers.
How would you characterise the state of FAST development in the different markets you operate in?
It is all about the ad rates/CPMs that are available in different markets. At the moment the highest CPMs are in the USA – and they were first movers in FAST. After the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Australia are the more developed markets right now.
In all these markets we’ll see that ad rates on FAST will increase, as adoption of this new model increases, and I believe that FAST will be profitable in all markets.