Media tech firm Amagi’s cloud-based SaaS technology is designed to help content owners get their content to wherever audiences are watching it. And increasingly those audiences are tuning into FAST – free ad-supported streaming TV – services.
VideoWeek spoke with Baskar Subramanian, CEO and co-founder of Amagi, to hear more about what’s driving the growth of FAST services, as well as the opportunity to reach niche audiences on FAST channels, and the opportunity for publishers within the emerging space.
For those not familiar with Amagi, could you explain what you bring to the market?
We are a media technology company. As I like to say, we’re in the business of tracking the video content journey from its creation to its consumption.
The problems we solve are not different from those of a retail company. If you are a retailer, you want to take your product to every shopping venue – from supermarkets to local stores and e-commerce platforms. You want to bring your product to right where consumers are to sell it.
This is essentially what we do for content owners. We take content to every possible platform in the world in any form or shape. We process content and distribute it to end consumers. We then generate analytics through data and enable content to be monetised effectively.
It’s what I call a ‘glass-to-glass process’ – from camera and production to delivery on CTV, our solutions support customers at every step of the content value chain.
We are present in multiple markets, from the US to Europe, India, and Australia. We recently launched operations in South Korea, and we are planning to further expand in APAC.
What’s driving the growth of FAST services, and what do they offer the consumer that linear TV doesn’t?
In the past 18 to 24 months, we have seen tremendous changes in the CTV space. In the US, streaming has become a significant portion of broadcasters’ growth prospects. Digital is increasingly integrated into broadcasters’ activities. Companies are merging digital and broadcasting together, under a single leadership.
A second important trend driving the growth of FAST is the increasing resemblance of streaming to TV. It is no exaggeration to say that streaming is the next TV. In the past, consumer experience on OTT was not of the highest quality, we are now seeing a greater level of sophistication in the space. For example, viewers have access to subtitle requirements and graphics. Latency on sports telecast has been significantly reduced. More news channels are also starting to come in.
Now, all of this is happening in the US, but I expect to see similar trends emerging in Europe very soon.
When it comes to content, which type of genres are succeeding in FAST, and what are the trends consistent across different markets?
News is undoubtedly a high-performing content genre. In fact, our quarterly global FAST report revealed that news is the top-performing genre worldwide. There are, however, differences across markets. News is the top genre in the US, and ranks second in EMEA, right after documentaries, but it’s not popular in LatAm, where viewers prefer other kinds of content such as movies, food shows, and nature documentaries.
Another interesting trend we are seeing is the emergence of numerous sub-genres, or micro-genres. For example, on Samsung TV Plus, there is a channel called Kitchen Nightmares that is attracting a large audience. It shows what happens behind the scenes in the kitchens of famous restaurants, almost like a reality show. It was hard to predict how popular it would become.
Another example of a successful micro-genre is Bob Ross’ channel ‘The Joy of Painting’, which teaches viewers how to paint. Viewers are addicted to it. Overall, DIY channels are getting traction as people like to learn new things through television.
Social media – particularly YouTube and Twitch – have been successful in tapping into some of the more niche audiences. Whilst most FAST services don’t feature user-generated content, is it fair to say there’s still an opportunity to tap into the same special interest audiences with broadcast quality content?
Yes, there is indeed an opportunity. Television is an intuitive medium. People click the switch on button and content starts to come out of the system. What makes a difference in channel viewing behaviour is serendipity. In the era of abundant content, people often discover new content in a serendipitous way.
Serendipity is an effective way to discover new genres and micro-genres you would never have thought of exploring. I don’t believe any machine learning algorithm in the world can match the power of serendipity.
Having multiple FAST services for consumers to dip into across different apps represents a bit of a headache for channel owners when it comes to having their content discovered. Are you seeing anything emerge that could help with content discovery?
Yes, I can mention at least a couple of things that can help with content discovery. What Samsung TV Plus has done recently is a great example. You switch on the TV and discover a slew of channels that offer different types of content. It’s a much more seamless way for viewers to start the discovery process, instead of choosing between countless apps.
Secondly, while in the past we tended to replicate both the good and the bad of cable, now, in an API connected world, we are starting to play smarter. The content can be personalised to each viewer’s preference. If I’m vegan, for instance, I might want to see vegan content even if I am watching a whole food channel. I believe that, eventually, we will see a personalised linear experience rather than a stock, single, linear experience for everybody. The future is going to be a mix of humans and machines helping each other to get viewers to the right spot.
In the early days of CTV, I think many hoped we’d see more CTV apps launch than have materialised, as many online publishers have been daunted by the prospect of setting up their own app. Might FAST channels be what drives the market forward?
Yes, I think FAST channels will drive the publisher market forward. There are already some good examples. Condé Nast has a strong presence in FAST. They bring interesting travel content online. The Washington Post is also about to enter the FAST space.
Numerous publications that have online video libraries are looking at FAST as a way to take their content out, monetise it and further build their brand. Even traditional broadcasters – the television networks themselves – are moving to FAST. NBC already has a FAST channel in the US, while CBS will launch a FAST channel on Paramount+ soon. We will see many other broadcasters make their move to FAST in no time.