• March 18, 2024
  • By Marion Ranchet Founder & Managing Director, The Local Act Consultancy
  • Featured Articles
  • For the rest of the Spring 2024 - Industry Sourcebook issue of Streaming Media magazine please click here

Welcome to FAST Times

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When the Streaming Media team ap­proached me in late 2023 about doing a column on FAST (free ad-supported streaming television), it took me just a min­ute to make up my mind as to how ambitions perfectly align with my newsletter Streaming Made Easy, where I dissect the latest news and trends in the streaming video industry through a Euro­pean lens. So, without further ado, let’s enter these FAST Times together.

The State of FAST in Europe

As 2024 begins, it is worth taking a quick look at what happened in 2023 in the Euro­pean FAST landscape, as it informs what lies ahead of us.

It is often said that Europe is 3 years behind the U.S. when it comes to FAST. It is true that FAST took off in 2019 in the U.S.; in 2022, we were still debating whether it had a role to play in the European ecosystem. But by the end of 2022, several players had made their first moves. 2023 got everyone on the same page: FAST should be part of the me­dia mix whether you are a content provider, a broadcaster, or a distribution platform.

The question now revolves more around how we go about it. The market in Europe bears little resemblance to the U.S. market, which is primed for FAST success with little free-to-watch con­tent, massive pay TV losses, cord-cutters flock­ing to CTV, and a big and advanced ad market. This past year shed some light on what a Eu­ropean FAST landscape could look like. We in­deed saw increased interest and activity from a range of European stakeholders. The region experienced accelerated growth in the num­ber of channel and platform launches; brands got more premium, exclusive deals; and live content made its entrance. Five trends got my attention in 2023 that I believe will fuel the growth of FAST in Europe in 2024.

Quality Over Quantity

European FAST platforms will privilege quality over quantity. During MIP­TV 2023 in April, Samsung TV Plus sug­gested it would place a soft cap in Europe at 120–150 channels, which is far from the 350-plus channels carried by The Roku Channel or Samsung TV Plus in the U.S. In Q3 2023, Pluto TV carried 147 channels in the U.K. and 173 in Germany (down by 15% in the U.K. and Germany versus Q1 2023), while Samsung TV Plus had 145 in the U.K. and 112 in Germany (Figure 1).

unique fast channel count
Figure 1. European FAST channel totals as of Q3 2023

The reason behind this quality-over-quan­tity approach stems from the landscape these platforms navigate, where FAST must find its spot among the extensive free-to-air content available to European audiences. Put simply, we have plenty to go around already. This quest for quality translated into launches from Tier 1 brands:

  • Traditional broadcasters: CNN, Altice Group, France 24, France Télévisions, and Zee One are syndicating their linear feeds or creating bespoke FAST feeds.
  • Commercial entities of broadcasters: Channel 4, ITV Studios, BBC Studios, ZDF Studios, and UKTV are grabbing the opportunity to get out of their home market or their own hubs to grow their brands on third-party platforms.
  • Tier 1 sports brands: FIFA+, La Liga+, DAZN, SPORT1, and Tennis Channel Spain are entering the space.

Sports and news are often cited as the two genres holding down the fort for linear broad­cast TV. It was about time we saw major sports and brands crossing over, and with sports came live, a new development with little precedent in the U.S. FAST landscape, which has mostly focused on shoulder content sports program­ming (pre- and post-event) rather than the game itself.

Channels like DAZN, La Liga+, and the Ten­nis Channel feature several live events a week now. Sports has also brought exclusivity plays by Samsung and Pluto TV, with partners like DAZN showing us they see sports as a differ­entiator worth investing in.

Platform Diversification

In the U.S., FAST has been the purview of pure players like Pluto TV or Tubi and CTV platforms like The Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus, and Freevee. In Europe, FAST brings together a more diverse set of players, with telecom operators/pay TV providers and broadcasters launching FAST hubs.

For telecom operators, FAST is a natural ex­tension of their existing channel lineups. Com­panies like waipu.tv, Zattoo, Molotov, Orange, or Virgin Media understood that early on. For broadcasters, adding FAST channels is about super-serving their audience and increasing time spent on their platform. ITVX, TF1+, and Joyn (part of the ProSiebenSat.1 Group) refer­ence 20-plus channels each (a mix of owned-and-operated channels and a few third-party channels).

Partnerships

In the fight for viewers’ attention, it is easy to think that going it alone is the way to win. Here are two reasons you should think twice before you do:

  • It’s costly, at a time when the search for profitability prevails.
  • It’s lengthy and potentially ineffective in markets you don’t know well.

It has been fascinating to see companies tak­ing a different approach, and here are three ex­amples that caught my eye:

  • Hisense and VIDAA signing partnerships to power the FAST hub VIDAA Free in European markets
  • Samsung Ads brokering a deal with TF1 PUB (the ad sales house of French commercial broadcaster TF1) to boost monetisation
  • Pluto TV widening its device coverage with distribution partnerships with telecom operators like Virgin Media, Bouygues Telecom, and MagentaTV (Deutsche Telekom)

Awareness

Educating consumers to turn them into view­ers is still a top priority for FAST stakeholders. It is not so much a question of consumers under­standing what FAST is as them realising they have access to 100-plus channels for free.

The marketing playbook for FAST got a first design with Samsung TV Plus and Pluto TV investing in out-of-home activations, but I am eager to see more initiatives to boost aware­ness. Pluto TV’s campaign on the Sphere in Las Vegas makes me excited about what is yet to come. Once consumers are in, the next challenge is channel discovery. Ideas abound for improving discoverability, but whatev­er approach we take, it’s time to accelerate on this front, which is central to overall platform engagement.

Show Me the Money

We still have little data about adoption and penetration in Europe, but what we crave most is data around the revenue potential of FAST. Research outlet Omdia was the first to provide numbers outside of the U.S., with a 10:1 ratio between the U.S. and the rest of the world (Figure 2).

 global share of fast channel revenue us vs rest of world 2019-2027
Figure 2. Source: Omdia Understanding FAST report, Blue Ant, 2023

In the absence of actual platform data, it is hard to say if these estimates have a grip on the true potential of FAST in Europe. What this tells me, though, is that we should not expect a FAST gold rush in Europe like in the U.S. for a simple reason: The two regions are too differ­ent. Does that mean we should we forego the model entirely? Of course not. We must write our own success story for FAST in Europe—a story in which FAST becomes:

  • A solid revenue stream in companies’ flywheels
  • A retention tool to bring added value to viewers
  • An alternative to SVOD at a time when wallets tighten
  • A way to boost time spent and lure in light TV viewers
  • A space to showcase underserved content and communities
  • A playground to experiment in and build a stellar advertising experience with the best of digital and TV combined

I will play my part in building this story. Come with.

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