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Back to Basics: What are FAST channels?

FAST channels stand for free ad-supported streaming television

What’s the deal with FAST channels? They’re more than just another acronym in the OTT/CTV alphabet soup.

Free, ad-supported television (FAST) channels feel like a return to the golden age of TV watching: schedules on a grid, a laid-back channel-surfing mode, ad breaks signaling a bathroom break. This throwback experience is back in style: 89% of viewers say that FAST channels deliver great value, and over 50% of millennial and Gen X viewers tune in each month.

But what exactly are FAST channels, and how are they different from ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD)? Don’t worry, we’ve got the answers.

Let’s dig into the FAST channel definition, differentiating FAST vs. AVOD, examples of FAST channel platforms, and the current trends that are shaping FAST services.  

What are FAST channels?

FAST stands for free ad-supported streaming TV. This is streaming TV – without a paid subscription. Unlike the subscription model, FAST channels offer no-cost streaming for viewers by programmatically inserting ads into a would-be ad break.

Essentially, FAST channels translate the concept of traditional linear TV channels (like cable or satellite) to connected TVs (CTVs), mobile, tablets, and other internet-enabled devices. FAST channels primarily offer programming in the live, linear TV format, but some providers also offer ad-supported video on demand (AVOD, more on that soon).

Linear TV is just traditional TV – the streaming service sets the schedule, and viewers tune in to watch the content live.

Best of all, FAST channels are available to anyone with an smart TV or a mobile app (although some services are tied to brand-specific devices, such as Samsung TV Plus on Samsung devices or Vizio WatchFree+ on Vizio TVs).

What’s the difference between AVOD and FAST, and what are the benefits?

AVOD stands for ad-supported video on-demand. With AVOD, viewers can watch content whenever they want to, but without the cost of a subscription model. It’s content that is monetized with ads instead of a subscription. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

FAST is almost the same thing, but instead of ad-supported on-demand content, it is ad-supported live TV content. Both AVOD and FAST use ads to monetize streaming content, eliminating the need for a costly cable subscription, which also helps limit audience subscription fatigue.

In short, AVOD and FAST achieve the same thing but offer different viewing experiences.

Chart of difference between AVOD vs FAST channels for CTV and OTT

Examples of FAST channel platforms

Viewers have no shortage of options when it comes to FAST channels. Here are a few popular examples: Freevee, Pluto TV, Tubi, IMDb TV, The Roku Channel, Fubo, Philo, Plex, Crackle, Vudu, and Distro.tv.

FAST channels: 2024 trends

Whether you’re a marketer or a publisher, CTV is in constant flux. There’s a lot to keep up with in terms of FAST channels. That’s why we’ve rounded up 5 important trends that are shaping the future of FAST channels, AVOD, streaming, and CTV overall.

Content is becoming less exclusive.

According to Nielsen, US audiences spent 60% of their streaming time in 2023 watching acquired programming. Popular programs included titles such as Suits, NCIS, and Grey’s Anatomy – shows that were once exclusive to specific subscription video on demand (SVOD) networks. Bringing these highly sought-after series to ad-supported services ensures that more viewers stick around to use the service – and more importantly, to see your ads.

Nostalgia rules.

Services such as Netflix and Hulu are motivated to promote content that they’ve produced, rather than in-demand shows acquired or licensed from other sources. In comparison, FAST and AVOD platforms can serve as a library serving up a very specific kind of TV — nostalgic TV. Viewers can find just about every type of genre or classic show, ranging from old-school sitcoms and vintage cowboy Westerns to reruns of The Love Boat and Saturday Night Live

Skipped ads? Very rarely.

A recent study found that only 7% of FAST viewers skipped commercials. In fact, 75% of respondents said they enjoyed a healthy mix of content with and without ads. With such openness to viewing ads and highly granular viewing audiences, FAST channels are perfect for effective and targeted advertising.

New channels galore.

One thing that FAST services have discovered is that there is a CTV audience for every type of classic show. It’s easy for FAST streaming services to curate and launch genre-specific channels quickly, ensuring flexibility to respond to viewers’ changing throwback obsessions. This is why a viewer can binge on 31 seasons of The Bob Ross Show on at least five FAST services in the US.

Cord-cutting, subscription fatigue, and cost-cutting.

You may have heard about cord-cutters: the people who’ve cancelled a cable or satellite TV service in favor of a paid streaming subscription. But in recent years, audiences are now finding themselves with a sometimes-pricy stack of premium streaming subscriptions. 84% of Americans report having subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, and most Americans with streaming subscriptions pay for at least three services.

Most American subscribers pay for 3 or more streaming services every month.

All these subscriptions add up, with an average annual price tag of $552 in subscription costs. The pendulum is now swinging in the other direction: consumers are reducing (or eliminating) their ad-free streaming subscriptions and opting into FAST channels. A 2024 study found that 37% of subscribers were paying for fewer streaming services than they had a year ago.

“Because of what’s happening in the economy, where there’s more inflation, people are being more price-conscious. What FAST channels allow people to do is get more content without the price,” as VAB’s Danielle DeLauro told The Current recently.

Deloitte’s 2023 survey of 3,500 consumers found that a cost increase of just $5/month would make 55% of Gen Z viewers and 45% of Millennials cancel their favorite streaming subscription. For viewers like these, FAST channels are a welcome alternative.

Ready to learn more?

At Verve, we’re here to help you monetize whatever kind of inventory you have, and to reach viewers wherever they are.

We support AVOD for video-on-demand channels on our over-the-top (OTT) platform. For live channels on our OTT platform, we support live linear TV and FAST channels. Plus, we offer support for addressable TV, which delivers personalized ads to different viewers for a hyper-engaging and more relevant streaming experience. Get in touch anytime to learn more.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Smaato’s blog. Smaato is part of Verve.

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