How Marketing Can Serve as a Key Differentiator for FAST Channels

The story of FAST in 2024 so far is one of increased competition. With nearly all the industry's biggest players now in the game, it’s getting crowded and the EPG is full. As a result, smaller entrants are getting squeezed out.

Have we reached “Peak FAST?” As the industry finds itself swimming among the greatest volume of FAST channels on record, streamers and publishers face the tall order of needing to rethink their strategies for effectively reaching and retaining audiences.

Let’s look at some of the industry trends that have led us to this point before considering the challenges and strategies for gaining viewership in today’s congested streaming market.


How we got here

With the transition from linear to Connected TV (CTV),  the media landscape has changed a lot – slowly at first, but at an accelerated rate in recent years. While legacy media companies have attempted to embrace this pivot to streaming in some ways, they’ve also tried to maintain their foothold in traditional models (a challenging balancing act).

The past 18 months, especially, have marked a significant turn towards free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST). Media companies are looking for eyeballs—and in the modern market, that means free ad-supported streaming. Nearly a third of the U.S. population is expected to be FAST viewers in the next three years.

Initially, being 'cable-like' helped FAST’s popularity – it allowed channels to attract viewers who were already familiar with traditional linear television. For CTV pioneers, it made sense to keep things similar to the TV experience we were all comfortable with and continue operating in a world where discovery was done through browsing channels with a few clicks of the remote.

Today, however, this strategy has started to show its limitations. NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. Discovery launched a combined total of 70 FAST channels in just the past year, contributing to an increasingly congested EPG (electronic program guide). With upwards of 300 to 400 channels all vying for attention, it’s become even tougher for individual channels to stand out, emphasizing the need for innovation in the FAST user experience and content discoverability. If discovery becomes a roulette wheel, then revenue becomes difficult to project, and investment becomes conditional.

Considerations for FAST publishers

Considering how crowded the FAST market has become, the space for companies that don’t have audience acquisition front of mind is shrinking. Platforms are highly selective with adding new channels, prioritizing the draw of unique or exclusive content. For new players entering the space, especially those without a breakout IP or some other unique value proposition, this has made the stakes even higher.Finding, and keeping, distribution across top partners today is highly dependent on delivering a proven audience. Many content companies rely on platform-promoted visibility, such as home screen placements or promotional spots during high-visibility periods, like holidays. While such approaches can be effective, opportunities are often limited and out of the publisher’s control.

All this is to say: there’s an opportunity for FAST streamers and publishers to embrace more performance-driven marketing strategies on CTV. The industry is in a new position with the ability to target audiences and measure performance on CTV like it could never do before with traditional TV marketing. Increasingly, companies are starting to embrace these new performance-based approaches, recognizing the need for more innovative marketing strategies that enhance content visibility and viewer engagement.

The path forward

Looking ahead, the lessons from this year are already clear: investment in marketing is essential for growth in FAST. Even as the programmatic ad market and viewer fragmentation continue to present challenges within the industry, the days of relying solely on organic growth are behind us, and the need for marketing dollars remains in order to build viewership.

As we navigate the “Peak FAST” era – a highly competitive marketplace for digital real estate – strategic, targeted marketing efforts coupled with strong content will be paramount for publishers and platforms aiming to expand their audiences and drive impactful engagement. In every industry and across every role, companies are increasingly held accountable for every dollar spent – as data informs decision-making, performance marketing will be a key tool for any FAST publisher or streamer serious about profitable, repeatable results on CTV.

The editorial staff had no role in this post's creation.