Free Ad Supported Streaming: Tap Into the Massive Audience Behind the Free TV Movement

By Rachel DeSimone on February 17, 2021


According to a recent Deloitte report on digital media trends, 47 percent of Americans now watch free ad-supported streaming TV services, or “FASTs.” FASTS are any free, ad-supported streaming video service that may include on-demand, linear programming, or both. 

The linear TV aspect of FASTS is essentially a free version of cable TV that mimics the lean-back experience of linear TV, with a programming grid. Some of the most popular FAST services include Pluto TV, Tubi, The Roku Channel, Peacock, Samsung TV+, and Xumo.

CNBC reports that traditional media executives expect about 25 million U.S. households to cancel their longstanding pay-TV subscriptions over the next five years, providing the assumption many of these consumers will seek free, ad-supported alternatives.

The pandemic has much to do with these changes, but as the Deloitte survey mentions, “the COVID-19 story isn’t so much “before and after” as it is “before and FASTer.”

While the average US home now subscribes to four OTT video services, the costs of stacking multiple subscription-based offerings are too much for many consumers. As a result, more consumers are canceling services for those they find to suit their interests at any given moment. On the contrary, you never really cancel a FAST, and Deloitte’s market research found that 37% of consumers enjoy the variety of content options available to them on free streaming services. 

Pluto TV has a global reach of nearly 36 million monthly active users, with 28.4 million in the United States, and Tubi saw its viewership jump 58 percent (to 2.5 billion hours) in 2020. Its audience reach is almost 80 percent greater than the top 25 cable networks. 

The success of FASTS can be attributed to:

  • They’re free
  • Carry lower ad-loads than pay TV’s average of 12 minutes and 12 seconds per hour
  • Have large content libraries
  • Good user experience 
  • BYOD (Bring your own device) FASTS are available on every mobile and Connected TV device and come pre-installed on many smart TV platforms such as Samsung, LG, Roku, and Vizio, which significantly increases their adoption

So while the business model of linear TV (paying $200 per month for access to a certain number of linear channels) is dying, linear TV as a viewing experience is proving to be as popular as ever.

Suppose you are a video content distributor with a wealth of content you’d like to get eyeballs on. In that case, you’re probably wondering how FASTS and ad-supported linear streaming can improve your OTT distribution strategy.

What is a FAST Channel? 

A FAST channel is a linear channel that appears on a free, ad-supported streaming TV service. Like its cable channel counterpart, a FAST channel is delivered in a scheduled manner. For example, if a viewer wants to watch a specific show, such as the original Unsolved Mysteries series, the viewer must tune into the channel at a particular time. The content on FAST channels generally falls into three broad buckets;  older TV shows or movies, packaged digital-first video clips, and streaming services leveraging library content to make their owned-and-operated services stand out, such as ViacomCBS using Pluto to promote two of its series, “Clarice” and “The Equalizer.”

Contingent upon many factors, including channel placement, ad fill rate, average CPM, content quality, duration, refresh rate, FAST channels can generate anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000+ in gross monthly revenue.

Types of FAST Channels

Each FAST service offers a mix of its own 24/7 curated linear channels in addition to channels that third-party content distributors operate. When considering FAST as part of your distribution strategy, here’s what you need to know.

Syndicated Theme Channels

These are channels that are curated and operated by the FAST service. For example, Xumo’s Action, Comedy, Westerns, SciFi & Fantasy, Black Cinema, Action, and Documentaries channels. 

Who’s it great for? Content owners with small libraries, B2B content distributors, independent movie studios, etc.

Branded Channels

These channels bear your company’s name or service and house your programming. Examples of branded FAST channels include Cheddar, Crackle, FilmRise Free Movies, Hallmark Movies & More. Unlike theme channels operated by the FAST services, you are responsible for your channel’s operation, which requires an investment in resources and technology.

Who’s it great for? SVOD/AVOD streaming services, digital-first content producers, news organizations, etc.


Considerations when launching your own branded FAST channel

You’ll want to keep in mind two areas when launching your FAST channel: content quality and scheduling. 

Content Quantity - As a reference point, you’ll want to launch with 100-250 hours of content and refresh 10-20 hours of your content each month. When viewers come back to your channel, you don’t want them seeing the same content they’ve seen before.

Scheduling - There are two primary ways of scheduling your programming on a  FAST channel, looped playlists and scheduled. As the name suggests, a looped playlist takes a playlist of on-demand videos and loops them. Although they’re simple to program, looped playlists don’t have the look-and-feel that you’d expect from a traditional TV channel. Scheduled playlists are more involved to schedule but can incite better viewer engagement habits.

How Content Owners can Harness FAST’s Potential

TV[R]EV research estimates that OTT will amass about 25 billion in ad-spend from advertisers by 2025, with FASTs to receive the lion’s share. 

If you are a content distributor considering your FAST channel’s launch, you may be wondering the best way to get started. Zype Playout helps video product teams navigate the challenging linear live broadcasting landscape and grow their distribution footprint across multiple FAST services. 

It also provides an all-encompassing solution to facilitate a FAST streaming solution for companies of all sizes. Playout is a programming, monetization, distribution, and analytics platform with the fastest stream start times in the industry. 

Playout offers workflows for selecting and ordering playlists of videos to create linear channel schedules, scheduling broadcasts, and encoding and packaging linear channels for RTMP or HLS based distribution. SSAI is supported, with integrations available for FreeWheel and Google Ad Manager.

Zype Playout takes the guesswork out of distributing FAST channels. Learn more here.

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