FAST Channels: The Complete Guide for 2023

By The Zype Team on January 02, 2023
 
Over-the-Top (OTT) platforms come in various shapes and sizes. While some platforms choose to use Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) plans to drive revenue, a large number of them prefer to rely on Advertising Video on Demand (AVOD). They even use different ways to monetize the content they publish. 

 

The latter gives users free access to content in exchange for watching ads. It’s no surprise that nearly 21% of people in the US use AVOD services.

Now, here’s the thing — AVOD services require you to choose the content you want to watch. But what if you could watch linear channels for free by watching ads intermittently — much like traditional TV? Well, that’s FAST (Free Ad-Supported TV) for you. And it’s fast-catching up with AVOD services, with 14% of people in the US using it.

chart that shows how fast channels are catching up with avod services over the time period from q2 in 2021 to q3 in 2021

Image via Statista

So, what exactly is FAST? How can you start making money using it? And how do you get started with it? 

Let’s dive in to find all the answers.

Introduction to FAST Channels

As mentioned above, FAST channels have quickly started to catch up with AVOD services in terms of the user base. So, let’s try to understand the FAST opportunity and why these channels are rapidly finding so many users.

New call-to-action

 

The FAST Opportunity

A FAST service is available as a linear channel that you can watch through smart TVs, connected TV (CTV) devices like Apple TV, and smartphones. As previously mentioned, with FAST, users just need to tune in to a particular channel to watch linear content that’s playing on it, much like traditional TV. They don’t have the option to choose a specific movie or TV show like AVOD or SVOD. As the FAST user base has grown, so has the number of FAST providers. In fact, while there was just Pluto TV in 2014, there are about 30 FAST providers today. Together, these providers offer over a thousand FAST channels to their users. Numerous big names like ViacomCBS and Fox have joined in, too, by acquiring existing FAST channels. These include:

  • Pluto TV (acquired by ViacomCBS)
  • Tubi (acquired by Fox)

Others, like Amazon and Roku, have started their FAST services like IMDb TV and The Roku Channel.

What is a FAST Channel?

In simple words, a FAST channel is a linear channel, much like traditional TV channels, with pre-programmed ad breaks between the content. The significant difference here is that FAST channels are streamed through CTV, unlike conventional channels.

The best part about FAST channels is that they’re free to watch for the users, meaning you can attract loads of viewers. They only have to watch the intermittent ad breaks in exchange for the free content. The ads also help drive your revenues as you’d be able to attract loads of users who want free content access.

How FAST is Evolving the Adoption of CTV

CTV is short for connected TV. It’s an umbrella term for any TV that can stream videos via the internet. This can either be through its built-in Wi-Fi and operating system (smart TVs) or through an external device such as Amazon Fire TV Stick, which can give it functionalities similar to smart TVs. 

Now here’s the thing — an overwhelming 92% of US households are reachable with CTV advertising. Additionally, 67% of consumers prefer some sort of ad-supported streaming content. This points to the wide presence of FAST channels on these CTVs. Many of these users would also be cord-cutters who prefer to stream content but want to retain the traditional linear TV-watching experience. 

The ease with which you can access FAST channels on CTV devices — many come pre-installed on smart TVs — is thus transforming the way people use CTV to watch content.

New call-to-action

Why FAST is Gaining Popularity

FAST channels have quickly grown in number and users over the past few years. And there are ample reasons for its growth at a breakneck pace. Let’s try to break them down.

1. Free Content

AVOD platforms have the most number of users (138.7 million in the US) due to a single reason — free content. The same applies to FAST channels as well. They offer free on-demand content to viewers in the form of linear channels, and this makes it very easy for people to access them.

The result is that you’d be able to quickly scale up your platform’s user base inexpensively with these users who come looking for free content. This large user base can come in handy when you want to grow brand awareness for your content as well. 

FAST providers are already leveraging this strategy to promote their content. For instance, ViacomCBS used PlutoTV to promote the reboot of their series “The Hills” with a 24/7 channel showing their old episodes.

2. Choice Paralysis

As content proliferates on OTT platforms all over the globe, users have started to report choice paralysis. They find it challenging to zero in on what to watch and end up taking a long time in this decision-making process. The result? It leads to frustration and takes the fun out of the content-watching experience.

Additionally, users have to maintain a bunch of subscriptions to SVOD platforms as content isn’t all available on a single platform. This spoils the experience further and also leads to escalating subscription costs.

FAST channels come in as a breath of fresh air in this situation. Users just have to tune in to a channel and start watching pre-programmed content, thus solving choice paralysis. It explains why people prefer to watch ad-supported platforms like Pluto TV over the week but not on weekends.

chart from comscore showing the changes in viewership for OTT streaming services by groups

Image via Comscore

3. Great Ad Revenue

The primary source of revenue for FAST channels is advertisements. As more users flock to these platforms, advertisers will follow too. This puts you, the publisher, in a great spot as you’ve got a vast audience that the advertisers would want to tap into. 

In fact, the CTV ad spend is expected to reach $23.6 billion in the next year before reaching $32.5 billion in 2026. So, if you can attract users to your FAST channels with the sort of content you publish, you can expect rising revenues.

chart showing the projection of global connected TV plus advertising revenue from 2014 through 2026

Image via GroupM

Challenges of FAST

FAST offers a win-win situation for content owners, publishers, and end-users. But before you start building and monetizing a FAST channel, you must understand the challenges involved in the process.

Complex Ad Insertion

Proper ad insertion is the most common challenge associated with starting a FAST channel. While ad breaks are crucial for generating revenue, too many irrelevant or repetitive ads will drive viewers away from your content.

You must ensure that the channel serves a variety of ads that resonate with viewers. The good part here is that this process is simple when you’re distributing the FAST channel on your OTT platform.

But if you’re distributing it on other FAST services and CTV devices, you won’t have full control over the ad inventory. That, in turn, increases the risk of degrading the user experience with the same low-quality ads played repeatedly. This can cause viewers to steer clear of your channel, and your ad revenue will likely drop.

Lack of Concrete Data

FAST is a relatively new concept, so you might have limited access to data analytics tools that support such services. And this can make it difficult to monitor the performance of your content and channel. You’ll likely have to rely on your gut instincts while programming content for your channel.

The good news is that building a robust tech stack or choosing a platform like Zype will help you overcome these challenges and grow your revenue. 

It’s now time for us to delve deeper into the process of setting up and monetizing a FAST channel.

Technical Requirements of Setting Up a FAST Channel

First things first — a repository of top-notch content isn’t the only thing you need to launch a FAST channel successfully. You also need powerful tools to program a wide array of VOD content into a linear channel.

Besides programming and scheduling content, the right tool will also help you insert timely ad breaks, live events, and breaking news into your FAST channel. Also, it’ll help you export and distribute your channel to different broadcast and digital platforms.

So, how do you start setting up your FAST channel? Well, the first step is to find the right playout software.

What is Playout Software?

Simply put, playout software is a platform that lets you turn your live and VOD assets into a linear 24/7 channel. Traditionally, broadcasters have used playout systems for on-air programming. 

Playout software serves many users, from broadcasters and digital publishers to consumer brands and developers. 

For instance, TV-native broadcasters can use it to create seamless digital experiences using their existing content libraries. Similarly, digital publishers can use playout software to program live and on-demand videos into a linear channel.

However, TV-native broadcasters use broadcast playout systems, while digital publishers usually use cloud-based ones. Here's the difference between the two:

  • Cloud-based playout systems offer pay-as-you-go pricing and scalability, but broadcast would require a heavy upfront investment.
  • Management is simplified with cloud-based systems, and they're better suited to future-proof your platform.
  • Data processing granularity needs to be looked at in cloud-based playout solutions, but not in the case of broadcast systems.
  • Broadcast systems need encoders and multiplexers, but encoders and packagers are needed for cloud-based systems and OTT.
  • All processing for cloud-based systems is done using software and is processed using cloud infrastructure, but broadcast systems require you to have the infrastructure on-premise. 

Choosing the Right Playout Software

In order to create your linear channels, you'll need a sophisticated playout solution in order to schedule and deliver linear programming to OTT destinations and provide a seamless viewing experience.

A playout solution built for linear distribution can help you achieve a lot of tasks, including:

  • Programming and scheduling linear content for your FAST channel

  • Delivering the channel to multiple endpoints

  • Inserting timely ad breaks in your content to drive income

  • Monitoring user behavior and content performance to improve programming and revenue


How Does Playout Fit Within the FAST Video Supply Chain?

Finding the right playout solution is the first step to setting up a FAST channel. It comes in handy at every step, right from programming and ad insertion to distribution and optimization.

Curating and Programming Content

The good thing about launching a FAST channel is that you don’t have to create a lot of fresh content. Instead, you can repurpose existing short-form and long-form content from your library.

A playout solution lets you combine different content assets into a linear TV channel. With it, you can easily import content from a video CMS or directly upload your content. 

Also, you can use a playout tool's programming timeline to design your linear channel. The best solutions offer drag-and-drop interface, similar to a video editing tool, that makes it easy to create a linear 24/7 channel and insert pre- and mid-roll ad breaks. To simplify and even automate creation of programming schedules, you can schedule or loop individual videos, playlists, and programming blocks.

Some playout solutions let you insert live events just as easily as VOD content. For example, Zype's Playout solution allows you to add a live stream or breaking news over pre-scheduled content by connecting a live input to the channel and prioritize the live input on the Priority Track. You can also use the Priority Track feature to override pre-planned programming without having to revise the entire schedule.

Easy Ad Insertion

Playout software helps you overcome one of the biggest challenges of FAST — ad insertion. Most playout software offers SSAI (Server-Side Ad Insertion) tools to connect an ad server and manage ad insertion

Some advanced playout solutions include the ability to enable prefetch to place ad calls to the server in advance for ad breaks. That, in turn, ensures better personalization, fill rates, and render rates. It also improves your chances of ads not getting filtered out by ad blockers. That, in turn, leads to higher revenues while taking the ad experience for end-users up a notch.

Most playout solutions also allow you to connect to a third-party SSAI, such as Google Ads Manager or Freewheel.

Hassle-Free Distribution

Designing a FAST channel with great content and strategic ad breaks isn’t enough. It won't get viewers and drive revenue if you don’t distribute it on the right platforms. The good news is that playout solutions can come to your rescue here as well. A good playout solution can help your content gain exposure in front of those FAST distribution platforms that are looking to expand their channel lineups, including platforms like:

  • The Roku Channel
  • Pluto TV
  • Samsung TV Plus
  • Xumo
  • Sling TV

You can even distribute your FAST channels to other destinations like smart TVs and Virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (vMVPD) platforms. The best part is that you don’t have to worry about configuring the channel for individual endpoints. Instead, you can set it up once and export it in different protocols, such as HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), and Secure Reliable Transport (SRT). That makes it easier to publish your channel to multiple destinations.

 

In-Depth Analytics

A good playout solution collects first-party data from end users to help you analyze the performance of different content assets. Using it, you can find top-performing content and peak usage hours. A good solution would also offer analytics Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which allow you to integrate the platform with your data hub. This can help you get real-time updates about your key users. That, in turn, can help you optimize your FAST channel with smarter programming decisions and drive more revenue.

How to Monetize a FAST Channel

In the previous sections, we explored the technical aspects of launching a FAST channel. But building your channel with pre-programmed and live content is only a part of the process. You must also use effective tactics to monetize your channel to make it a successful venture.

FAST Ad Insertion: An Overview

As mentioned earlier, FAST channels use the same video monetization model as AVOD services. You insert ad breaks into your content and make money when users view these ads. But this process isn’t as simple as it sounds. 

To start, you need to program ad breaks at the right intervals into your linear channel. Zype Playout makes that easy with a simple drag-and-drop editor. Whenever you insert an ad break, the programming timeline automatically adjusts to make room for it.

Also, you must ensure that every ad break is filled with relevant and high-quality ads that don’t disrupt the viewing experience. That, in turn, requires you to connect your channel to suitable ad servers.

You can always use third-party SSAI platforms, such as Google Ads Manager and Freewheel. Or you can use Zype Playout to simplify ad insertion. The tool uses Zype SSAI to connect to ad servers, recognize ad breaks in advance, and can even prefetch the right ads. 

That, in turn, ensures high fill and render rates and boosts your revenue. Also, it eliminates the need for you to monitor ad insertion, leaving you with more time to focus on content creation and programming. Even if you’re using third-party SSAI, you can use Zype Playout to identify and insert ad breaks.

Hidden Costs of FAST

As CTV ad spending rises, it gives you a chance to grow your FAST channel’s revenue. But here’s the thing — you can’t achieve that without at least some control of your ad inventory.

With FAST channels, ad inventory ownership can have a ton of ambiguity. If you distribute your channel via existing platforms like Samsung TV Plus or Pluto TV, they might have full control over ad breaks. They’ll decide what kind of ads will play on your channel. Also, they’ll claim part of your ad revenue as a commission.

Similarly, content owners can directly approach marketers to sell ad inventory. That means you’ll have to split the available ads and revenue with them. 

Also, when you lack full control over ad insertion, you won’t be able to optimize the viewing experience. For instance, the platform distributing your channel might insert mundane and repetitive ads, which could drive users away from your FAST channel.

All these factors will take a toll on your revenue and prevent you from harnessing the channel’s full potential. So, make sure you keep these in mind when you start monetizing your channel.

How to Make More Money With FAST

Despite its challenges, FAST gives an amazing opportunity for monetizing your content. 

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of it:

Utilize Video-Level Data

Delivering relevant and engaging ads is the key to improving the ad experience and keeping users hooked to your FAST channel. That, in turn, requires you to understand your audience, including their aspirations, pain points, and preferences.

While a good playout solution will provide in-depth audience data and analytics on its own, you can take things up a notch by using integrated technology partners, like IRIS.tv. With this integration, you get access to meaningful and structured video-level data. In other words, you get concrete data on individual scenes in a video. You can use that information to improve targeting and deliver a better ad experience to users.

Look Beyond Ad Breaks

Inserting ad breaks into a linear content stream isn’t the only way FAST channels generate revenue. With solutions like TripleLift, you can dynamically insert product placements and banner ads into your videos.

TripleLift uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to identify the most suitable brand and product integrations for your content. You can even insert products or brand messaging into content that’s been shot months or years earlier. Similarly, you can overlay brand messaging as a footer on the screen while a video is playing.

TripleLift also lets you program six-second ad breaks that scale back video content during narrative breaks. These solutions create an integrated ad experience without intrusive ad breaks. It keeps viewers glued to the screen, improves viewing time, and helps you generate more revenue.

Launch Your Own OTT Platform

If you don’t want to split ad revenue with other platforms, it’s a good idea to distribute the channel on your own OTT platform. It’ll give you full ownership of the ad inventory and remove the need to pay a third-party platform. With this control, you can improve the placement and duration of ad breaks to minimize disruption.

But keep in mind that starting an OTT platform isn’t an easy task. It involves lots of steps, such as building an app, choosing the right monetization strategy, and implementing customer acquisition strategies. That said, using an app creator solution can simplify the process. With it, you can create your OTT platform without any developers.

Offer a Subscription Plan

AVOD viewers make up more than 50% of OTT video users in the US. While that’s a huge number, it also means that many people still prefer an ad-free viewing experience. In fact, nearly 85% of households in the country use subscription OTT services too.

To appeal to this category of users, you could create a subscription service on your owned and operated platform that offers similar linear channels without ads. This way, you'd be able to drive revenue from subscriptions as well.

Besides subscriptions, you can also offer download-to-rent (DTR) or electronic sell-through (EST) options. That means viewers can rent or buy specific shows or movies featured on your FAST channel in exchange for a one-time fee.

Ad-free viewing options will help diversify your income streams and grow your revenue. Also, they’ll attract more users to your FAST channel and ensure a smooth experience for every user.

Essential Tips for Starting Your FAST Channel

Now that you know how to build and monetize a FAST channel, you must be eager to kickstart the process. But it’s crucial to outline a proper plan to attract viewers and maximize revenue before taking the plunge.

In this section, we’ll discuss a few additional tips to help you make the most of your FAST channel. 

Let’s take a look.

What Sort of Delivery Endpoints Can I Reach With My FAST Channel?

Here’s the thing — you can’t generate substantial revenue from your FAST channel if it doesn’t attract any viewers. That, in turn, highlights the need for a solid distribution strategy.

Typically, you can choose between the following delivery points:

Owned and Operated OTT Platform

When distributing a FAST channel, your best bet is to launch your own OTT platform. It’ll give you complete control over ad inventory, which means you can customize the ad experience the way you want.

You can use video-level data and viewer analytics to deliver relevant ads at the right time. And the best part — you don’t have to split ad revenue with a third-party platform. 

But remember, you’ll still have to invest resources and time to build an app and website for your OTT platform. The good news is that you can use Zype’s App Creator to speed up the process and eliminate the need for developers.

Third-Party Platforms

Does developing an OTT platform from scratch seem like a ton of work? Well then, consider distributing your FAST channel on existing platforms. These include popular FAST services, such as The Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Xumo, Tubi, and Peacock. Alternatively, you can launch your FAST channel on vMVPD services or smart TV platforms, such as Samsung TV Plus and VIZIO. 

If you’re wondering how you can ensure that your channel runs seamlessly on different platforms, you can use a solution like Zype Playout. It’ll save you the trouble of exporting programming rundowns in various formats. Instead, you can export the timeline once and publish it to different endpoints.

Using an established third-party platform can help expand your FAST channel’s reach and attract more viewers quickly. But you’ll have to share your ad revenue. Also, you won’t have any control over when and what ads are displayed on the channel. That, in turn, can impact the ad experience.

How to Improve FAST ROI

Starting and growing a FAST channel requires plenty of effort and resources. Here are a few tips to help you maximize returns:

Optimize Your Tech Stack

You need a variety of applications and tools to build your FAST channel. It’s wiser to choose a platform like Zype that offers solutions geared to different parts of the FAST video supply chain.

For instance, Zype’s VideoMeta CMS comes in handy for uploading, hosting, and organizing your content assets. You can even import files from the CMS into Zype Playout using APIs or Media Real Simple Syndication (MRSS) feeds. Next, you can use Zype Playout to build programming schedules, insert ad breaks, and export streaming analytics.

It saves you from the hassle of configuring and integrating multiple tools to get your FAST channel off the ground.

Leverage APIs

Creating programming workflows with on-demand content, live events, breaking news, and ad breaks isn’t easy if you try doing it from scratch. The good news is that you can simplify the process using cutting-edge API tools.

With advanced API Tools, you can easily customize your playout experience or create custom programming workflows. You can even set rules for recurring programming elements or overriding existing content at the right time. Similarly, you can track viewership metrics and conduct algorithmic ad insertion.

API tools make it easier to get started with a FAST channel using your existing infrastructure. They’re particularly helpful when you already own an OTT platform and want to try your hands at FAST.

Promote Your FAST Channel

Use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to attract users to your FAST channel. You can even share previews of popular content on YouTube to generate awareness and expand reach. 

What’s more, you can partner with social media influencers and ask them to promote your content and FAST channel. It’s also a good idea to consider using CTV advertising to grab more eyeballs. The key is to promote your FAST channel such that you can get more viewers.

Localize Your Content

In today’s competitive OTT landscape, localization is the key to breaking into new markets. Include regional news and events in your programming to attract viewers from local markets. Also, make sure you offer subtitles for popular shows and movies in various languages. Dubbing popular content in local languages is a clever idea, too. You could also launch channels dedicated to local languages to gain further traction.

Final Thoughts

A FAST channel is a great way to open up an additional revenue stream if you’ve got an existing OTT platform. And if you’re starting out, it holds a promising future. But to make the most out of it, you must ensure that you get things right.

Make sure you have the right tools, such as Zype Playout, to build linear programming workflows and insert ad breaks into your FAST channel. Also, use video-level data and user engagement metrics to deliver a personalized ad experience.

Besides ad breaks, explore other brand integration options, such as product placements and overlays, to maximize revenue. Lastly, don’t forget to outline a concrete distribution and marketing strategy for your FAST channel.

Ready to get started with your FAST channel? Download our white paper "Into the FAST Lane" to set the ball rolling.

Harness the power of Zype's video infrastructure