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Is the Future of TV Headed… Backwards?

March 6, 2023
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When streaming services came on the scene they were heralded as the future of television, offering commercial-free content on demand. Binge watching a series quickly became the new normal. However, the pendulum of TV today is quickly swinging the other way with the massive rise in FAST services available. In many ways, with the advent of FAST services, TV is moving back towards the linear model.

FAST stands for “free ad supported television.” Content plays in a very linear format, similar to a cable or satellite TV guide. In many ways, it feels like traditional broadcast viewing but it exists within the streaming ecosphere. Content is presented in channels, where the viewer has no control over specific programming or episodes. Some examples include channels devoted to cult classics like 90210 or Friends, and content niches with channels devoted to holiday, cooking, or crime. Viewers are able to enjoy a wide range of diverse programming options, without a monthly subscription fee or cable bill. Remember the F in FAST is “free” – so when viewers are willing to sit through ads, they can save money.

Examples of FAST channels include Pluto TV, XUMO, TUBI, Peacock, Freevee (Formerly IMDbTV) The Roku Channel and SamsungTV+.

The future for FAST is bright. Roku recently announced a partnership with Warner Bros. Discovery to bring Warner Bros. branded FAST channels to The Roku Channel. Hundreds of TV series and movies from Warner Bros. Discovery’s portfolio, including HBO, Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, and more, will now be available for audiences to stream for free on The Roku Channel.

The FAST model is in stark contrast to how streaming functions ordinarily, where a viewer is required to actively find and select a program to stream. I am sure we have all experienced the process of scrolling through endless options, deciding between rewatching The Office, again, or starting something new. Nielsen reports that the average viewer spends more than 11 minutes searching for content to watch, as we’re overwhelmed with “choice fatigue” and have a hard time making a decision when presented with so many options. (Source: Nielsen Media Landscape December 2022.) This time searching is time not spent viewing. The television landscape is rapidly evolving and with that, significant changes are happening in consumer behaviors. How we watch TV and select content is significantly different today than it was 5 or 10 years ago. But at the end of the day, one truth remains constant, the viewer will always prefer a sitting back experience viewing content on the “the big screen.”

How an advertiser delivers their message to consumers is more complicated than ever, and the growth of FAST channels is one more fragmented piece of the puzzle. Relying on an experienced media agency to help navigate this landscape and find the right mix is more important than ever. Have you asked your media agency if FAST channels should be a part of your media mix?

Angela Parrish