How to adapt FAST in the ‘golden age of VOD’

Anne Corsak

Anne Corsak of Flame Distribution tells TBI how FAST TV (Free Ad Supported Television) is transforming the business and offering new avenues for rights and originals.

The future is FAST.

As a 17-year veteran in the television industry, one of the most important lessons I have learned about this business is how to adapt. Nothing ever remains the same and life is easier if one views change as an opportunity rather than a hurdle.

We naturally know that networks evolve when it comes to their programming grid, but now, in the golden age of VOD, traditional linear networks are finding that having complimentary VOD channels are a smart investment. And as a distributor of both acquired and commissioned properties, the addition of these new channels provides more opportunity for content placement than ever before.

Life on the grid

FAST channels (Free Ad Supported Television) offer viewers a traditional television-like experience, serving ad-supported video content in a streaming capacity, complete with the familiar programming grid. This is live TV – no jumping around or restarting if you missed the first 10 minutes.

The angle is that content is not necessarily programmed with appointment viewing in mind, but rather a lean back option, allowing a viewer to come into a channel and let it play.

Broken down by genres, FAST channels are accessed via AVOD platforms that are now commonplace names in households across the US – the likes of The Roku Channel, Pluto TV and Tubi – and expanding quickly in the worldwide marketplace.

What is new is the brand behind the channel, now often programmed by successful cable linear networks looking to attract a new audience that consumes content without a subscription or a cable box.

FAST’s value & growth

As a content owner or distributor, how do FAST channels operate and is there value to licensing content to these new streaming outlets? In Flame Distribution’s eyes, absolutely.

With the growth of new FAST channels comes more opportunity for library content to be acquired, oftentimes from genres that don’t always match with current linear television programming mandates.

When it comes to licensing content to network owned FAST channels, budgets remain modest, however second run renewals on their cable linear channels are creeping in next to first run FAST acquisitions, proving that evergreen titles continue to shine across all platforms.

For example, Blue Ant’s paranormal T&E channel in Canada is now expanding into the FAST channel world with Haunt TV – serving new viewers in both Canada and the US. Flame sees the opportunity to work with trusted network buyers like Blue Ant as a mutually beneficial way to keep finished programming thriving in a multitude of platforms.

Retaining unique rights

FAST channels occupy a unique rights description – free digital linear via mobile or internet transmission. An exclusive grant of these rights would mean that another FAST channel won’t offer your programme in the territory, however AVOD rights could be granted non-exclusively for a video on demand option.

Exclusive terms should have equitable license fees or limited premiere windows. Content is acquired for FAST channels under two models – a license fee or a revenue share option. Depending on the title and where in the schedule your program is set to air, advertising revenue could vary. One of the challenges of FAST channels is that although the content is available for free, the threshold of ad watching may vary between viewers.

If your content isn’t placed during a prime watch time, there is high probability that the content won’t generate sufficient ad views. Monthly or quarterly reporting can also be tedious, so a decent license fee for a limited window is often preferred.

Original repertoire

Although acquired content is the mainstay for FAST channels, it won’t be too long before we start to see original programming creep into the prime-time slots. After all, this model has been successful for years and is one that linear networks know how to market extremely well.

I predict that just as we are seeing the trend of premium originals premiere on SVOD platforms like Discovery+, Paramount+, and Disney+, Pay TV networks will also start to see the FAST channels as a way to target consumers looking for a free (ad supported) experience.

The more popular FAST channels become, the more ad revenue is earned, with the idea that there will be a tipping point in earnings that will propel funding for original, genre specific content. Flame hopes that by partnering early with networks and their FAST channel roll outs, this will then lead to the development and commissioning of Flame’s original content in the future.

The evolution of FAST channels and their ever-growing genres also allows more options for international programming placement into the US. Seeing the success of SVOD services such as Acorn TV for UK centric content, I predict more FAST channel options will help distributors find homes for international hits to cross over into the very competitive US marketplace.

The future of FAST channels is proving to be profitable, not only with the immediate revenues earned but also the invaluable long-term rapport with the linear networks we continue to produce for.

Anne Corsak is SVP of content sales for North America and global digital strategy at Flame Distribution.

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