The State of FAST Markets: Europe vs. US

The European FAST market has always been a different animal from the U.S. one; besides generally lagging a few years behind the U.S. market in terms of maturation, the European market has different complexities, due to language differences, localization, and other factors  such as how readily available free content tends to be in different markets. But trailing the U.S.’s growth curve isn’t necessarily a disadvantage, and now, with Europe supplanting North America as the world’s fastest-growing FAST ecosystem, there are lessons to be learned, as Evan Shapiro of New York-based ESHAP/Media War & Peace newsletter and Marion Ranchet of the European Streaming Made Easy newsletter discuss in this clip captured at Streaming Media Connect in November.

“Germany is growing really quickly now from a very low base. The UK is growing very quickly, Spain is growing very quickly,” says Shapiro. “And there’s a lag time between the growth spurt of FAST in the US and what's happened over there in Europe. Are there major differences in the platforms and the programmers? A lot of it is driven by local-language content, but a lot of it is coming in dubbed and subtitled on the major platforms. Are you seeing other kinds of major nuances or differentiations between what's happening early days in FAST there and what's happening kind of in a more mature market here?”

“I don’t think we're going to see the same thing happen in Europe that we've seen in the U.S.,” Ranchet says. “The markets are very different. I was at Roku in 2019. It was the beginning and then the pandemic hit,” spurring unprecedented growth nearly everywhere in the streaming world. “So there’s a lot of elements, ingredients that I think we’re not going to see again in Europe. Also, because we have this lag of a few years on pretty much everything, we tend to look at what you've done and also tweak it.”

“A cautionary tale,” Shapiro injects.

“In some cases we’ll make the same mistakes, but that’s kind of the value of being second, I would say,” Ranchet continues. “I think there's also the fact that the markets are very different.” In the U.S., when you offer “a free value proposition, I think it’s very distinctive. In Europe, it’s not. We have tons of amazing content for free from broadcasters. So yes, linear is going down, and especially with younger audiences, there's a lot of struggles. But having said that, we already have a lot of opportunities to watch free content.”

Another key difference, Ranchet explains, is the different trajectories of Pay TV, cord cutting, and CTV in the U.S. vs. Europe. "In the U.S., I feel FAST was really boosted by the Connected TV ecosystem, and that's again because of cord cutting," she says. "The Pay TV market is contracting in Europe but not bleeding out in the same way as in the U.S. because it's much cheaper. In France, essentially, for 40 euros you have a Pay TV package with internet, the whole shebang. So there's a lot of that at stake."

With Pay TV holding its own in Europe, where does FAST fit in? “I think there's room for FAST, and I think we'll just make it something different." 

“Pluto and Samsung are infiltrating the market there, as exemplified by Pluto combining My5 and Pluto in the UK,” Shapiro says. “Both are owned by Paramount. That's a very different take than anything that they’ve ever seen here.”

“My5 is the digital hub of the broadcaster Channel 5," Ranchet replies. “You also see the local broadcasters testing it. ITVX [recently celebrated] their one-year anniversary. They’ve launched 25 to 30 channels within these last few months and they generated something like 25 million streaming hours. They had 3 to 4 million viewers coming in and out to use that. So I think the recipe for success is going to be a bit different. That's where I think the niche services really have a play. If it's about copying and pasting traditional TV onto FAST—which is what it started to look like—then you’re just going to repeat what’s happening and people are going to turn away. Whereas FAST is the opportunity to bring new guys and so new verticals, underserved topics and underserved audiences. There’s also a diversity play. Folks who had no say can actually have a say via FAST, right? So, that's a few of the things I’ve seen. The challenge is then the fragmentation—how difficult it is to grow globally when you are going beyond the English language.”

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