All the News That’s Fit for FAST

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The rise of Free Ad-Supported Television (FAST) tiers has recently been a major development for the streaming space, with different trajectories in the US and European markets. And while the type of content that has so far thrived on FAST platforms has consisted mainly of classic television program archives like vintage sitcoms and gameshows, along with the emergence of live sports streaming FAST channels—such as the recently announced partnership between Tubi and DAZN for boxing, MMA, and international soccer—one of the most exciting and promising areas for FAST development has been news broadcasting.

As Marion Ranchet highlights in this issue’s FAST Times column, “The Most Demanded FAST Genre in 2024: News,” this year presents a fertile ground for the surge of FAST news offerings, mainly because it is an election year in 91 countries. This, coupled with the push for more local television offerings in the FAST space, has driven legacy media companies to expand their streaming reach by offering a mix of regional and national news. The absence of streaming rights issues for presenting live programming, a significant hurdle for sports streamers, has also eased the way for FAST news broadcasting. 

Major Legacy News Broadcasters Enter the FAST News Space

In a move that has reverberated across the industry, BBC and AMC announced in March their foray into the FAST news space with the launch of a 24-hour live news channel. This channel is set to debut on multiple platforms, including Pluto TV, Samsung TV Plus, Xumo Play, VIZIO WatchFree+, Sling Freestream, and Plex, marking a big step in the evolution of FAST news broadcasting. 

In a press release on the BBC launch, Chief Commercial Officer of Global Media and Streaming at BBC Studios Tara Maitra said, “This is a significant milestone for the BBC as this launch will more than double the current reach and availability of the BBC News channel in the U.S. at a time when access to independent news and information is more important than ever.” 

Lucy Hockings of BBC News (photo courtesy of BBC)

Mike Nagle, CEO of Ashling Digital, formerly GM of Streaming at USA TODAY, says of this announcement, “BBC is planting its flag. If you’re a credible news player, it is time to stand up and be counted. [The BBC/AMC news launch] says they’re ready, and they're not going anywhere. Huge credit to their team for that push.” 

BBC and AMC have emphasised that their coverage will feature a more global “impartial” angle on US national news. Scripps Networks, which has become an active player in the FAST news space in recent months, also recognises the importance of presenting impartiality in its news offerings. “At Scripps, we have always prided ourselves on our fair, independent approach to news coverage,” says Christina Hartman, Head of News Standards at Scripps Networks. “That is the 145-year-old foundation on which all our products are built. We honor that legacy by employing journalists with expertise who live and work in the communities they cover and who follow the facts in all they do. Audiences of Scripps News and Scripps local 24-hour FAST streaming channels get impartial news every day. The need for impartial journalism in these polarised times has never been so great. We welcome any new players that share our commitment to serving audiences with reliable and fact-based news.”

In another recent development in live news FAST coverage, USA TODAY NETWORK streamed its first live news broadcast of a White House presser. “That White House press conference really was batting practice for our streaming team as well as for Amagi, who is Gannett’s partner,” Nagle says. “It was the kickoff for bigger things that ultimately will be ad-supported. No one sponsors a White House press conference (yet, anyway). Not long after that,” he continues, “we covered Super Tuesday and aired a live event called ‘Country Box’ and the State of the Union. Platforms promoted the State of the Union broadcast, which drove viewership. People who were cord-cutters came to their respective streaming platforms of choice, and when they looked to see where they could watch, we gave them a choice, and many responded by navigating to the channel and watching that coverage. The significance of that White House presser was that it showed that we were ready for what was coming next. It also alerted viewers that they had a new choice of FAST platforms to get their news.”

USA TODAY NETWORK live stream of a White House presser

Local News Enters the FAST Space

Legacy media companies such as Scripps, Hearst, and Sinclair Broadcasting have quickly entered the local programming FAST streaming space, focusing on local news. Both Hearst and Sinclair have their own dedicated community-based platforms. Hearst’s Very Local and Sinclair’s NewsOn connect viewers directly with their local news affiliates. 

Andrew Fitzgerald, Senior Vice President of Streaming Video Services for Hearst Television and General Manager of Very Local, speaks of the dynamic mix of both local news and related engaging local and national content that can be enjoyed by a wide range of demographics. “Very Local has successfully attracted a wide swath of general market viewers across age, ethnicity, and gender,” Fitzgerald says. “The app has proved useful for cord-cutters in our markets and our linear viewers seeking deeper engagement with Hearst Television’s award-winning news brands. Local newscasts from trusted stations form the core of the Very Local offering, but this is augmented by other locally produced news programming and high-utility lifestyle content celebrating the communities within the Hearst Television footprint. Watching Very Local in any particular market, a viewer would find not just local news and local originals but also documentaries and lifestyle content produced from elsewhere in the country, shining a light on compelling stories from similar geographies.”

The Electronic Programming Guide for Hearst’s Very Local

While Scripps does not have its own dedicated community-based platform, streamed local programming is available from its broadcast stations. Dean Littleton, Senior Vice President of Local Media for Scripps, says, “Scripps local stations are super-serving their loyal audiences with high-quality streaming apps native to each market, where local audiences can watch local newscasts and browse special offerings on demand. They can also stream Scripps News’ national live programming during non-local hours. Our research—and our audiences—tell us viewers want a mix of local and national news in their streaming experience, and we have seen strong growth in users and hours of viewing.”

Scripps News streaming menu 

Frank Friedman, senior vice president of Data, Insights, and Research at Scripps, compares the noticeable difference in age demographics of live viewership on traditional linear television versus streaming. “Based on data collected from Nielsen and Comscore: 37% of people 18-34; 51% of people ages 25-54; and 78% of people ages 55-99 all have access to watching linear television,” he says. “When it comes to the percentage of people with access to LIVE via FAST/CTV: 63% of people ages 18-34; 49% ages 35-54; 22% of people ages 55-99.”

FAST Live News Vs. FAST Live Sports: Who’s Winning the Game?

Live sports streaming has been slow to fully roll out on FAST platforms due to many factors, with expensive rights and licensing being amongst the biggest obstacles. Beyond that, however, streaming news stands to connect with a larger swath of viewership compared to sports, which depends more on niche preferences such as team fandom and its primary entertainment utility than the more practical and timely offerings of news broadcasts.

“The need for news is universal as opposed to sports,” says Ashling Digital’s Nagle. Many people don’t follow sports or simply understand the economics of TV sports tiers and elect not to pay for access or can’t afford to pay the additional step-ups. Likewise, local news is such an important part of life. Whether it is about safety, education, transportation, or whatever the inspiration—it relies on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That’s the fundamental cornerstone of needs that we all have. Local news also doesn’t come with the price tag of sports, so it is more affordable to boot. As cord-cutting becomes more widespread, the need for local news (and news in general) will increase in the world of FAST, and likewise, there is a desire from the audience to get credible news that isn’t so slanted to one party or candidate. We need news brands that own the middle and anchors who don’t shout at viewers or their guests.”

Scripps’ Littleton says, “We do not have to license the content or pay rights fees to teams or leagues regarding news. We own the news we produce. Our 60+ local stations can air and/or stream a Scripps News simulcast without paying licensing fees, giving national news coverage to local audiences.”

What Ultimately Matters Is the Quality of the Content

No matter how news content is delivered or consumed, what ultimately matters are core journalistic standards of quality, which, according to the Ethical Journalism Network, are “accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity, and accountability.” Over the last several years, social media-driven, echo-chambered news consumption has fueled political polarization and extremism. Therefore, it is paramount that neutral and truly balanced reporting is delivered to all viewers. 

Kate O’Brian, President of News at The E.W. Scripps Company, emphasises these crucial factors for Scripps. “Audiences are diverse when it comes to viewing habits. Our aim is to be where consumers are, whether that’s on linear, FAST, social—all of it. Because the ways in which people consume news are so different, the challenge is not just how we get in front of them but when and where.  

“The priority, though, always has to be the content. If you have reliable, nonpolarizing, fact-based news coverage and push it out in a variety of ways, it will attract an audience. You have to do that consistently.”

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