Comcast report says free ad-supported streaming TV penetration has doubled

A new report from Comcast Advertising finds consumers are leaning in to the lean-back experience free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) services provide, mimicking the linear TV environment with channel guides and surfing, but without high costs or need for logins.

According to the report, FAST penetration among households more than doubled year over year in 2021, making it the fastest growing streaming tier. Six out of 10 households with a connected TV are turning to FAST services, per the report, either exclusively or to complement other services.

The report leans on data from Kantar, which found 18% of U.S. households use a FAST service as of Q4 2021, more than doubling from Q4 2020 when household penetration was 8%. In Q4 2021 FAST penetration rose 4.9 percentage points, making it nearly the size of AVOD, which stood at 24%.

Some of the leading FAST services include Comcast’s Xumo, Paramount’s Pluto TV, Fox’s Tubi, and Amazon’s Freevee. In Q4 2021, Peacock, IMDB TV (now rebranded as Freevee), Tubi and The Roku Channel accounted for the greatest share of new users, accounting for 79% of all new FAST users in the period, according to Kantar.

In addition to mobile and TV apps, many FAST channels are programmed into smart TV channel guides and menus across OEMs like Samsung, LG, TCL and Sony as well as OTT devices like Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, TiVo and others. Comcast’s Xumo is also integrated into its traditional MVPD Xfinity service. Just this week Tubi teamed up with Canadian operator Shaw, which integrated the FAST service into its Shaw TV set-top box offering (it’s worth noting Shaw licenses the X1 platform from Comcast).

“Many consumers may be unaware that the channels they access through their TV are F.A.S.T. channels programmed directly int o the channel guide by the manufacturer,” the report notes. “As a result, when a user is channel surfing on their connected device, it’s easy for them to land on the F.A.S.T. channels without even knowing it — and then spend time engrossed in the content.”

Xumo users spend more than 100 minutes per session

In terms of time spent, Comcast shared data on Xumo, noting viewers spend an average of 104 minutes within the platform once they enter.

The platform is more popular among millennials, who, according to the report, appreciate a lack of excessive branding and focus on openness, along with accessibility and nostalgic experiences.

With many FASTs aggregating content under a particular theme, Xumo’s top five most popular content categories based on time watched as of May 2022 were: news, movies, crime TV, game shows & daytime tv, and humor.

Along with themes, FASTs often feature live news channels, or series/brand-based channels. For example, Cinedigm last month debuted The Elvis Presley Channel. The FAST channel dedicated to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is available on seven platforms.  

FASTs as a complement

It doesn’t look as though many consumers tapping FAST service like Xumo are using the streaming option exclusively, but rather as a complement to other OTT video options such as SVOD and AVOD services.

A whopping 70% of Xumo users are cord cutters, per the report, with high percentages also using SVOD services. Among Xumo users, 77% subscribe to Netflix, 80% subscribe to Hulu and 65% subscribe to Prime Video.

Paramount, meanwhile, has been expanding its rollout of Pluto TV internationally where it’s partnering with local broadcasters for local content and ad sales support, including launches in the Nordics and Canada. It recently made changes to its channel lineup for easier navigation and discovery, adding five new categories  – along with dedicated channels for Let’s Make a Deal, The Judge Judy Channel, and Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.

Amanda Garcia, senior director of Partnerships at Paramount+, said in the Comcast report that, “As customers find more ways to watch the content they love across a mix of services, F.A.S.T. channels have become a key part of our media mix for acquisition and awareness, as well as targeted campaigns to super-serve key audiences.”

Advertisers looking to FASTs

The report also suggests that FASTs present a new way for advertisers to reach engaged viewers and targeted audiences across multiple platforms.

“For advertisers, F.A.S.T. provides a unique opportunity to reach cord-cutters while they are ‘scrolling,’ ‘channel surfing’ and discovering new content – a prospect not possible through ad-free services like Netflix or even from ad-supported on-demand services like Crackle,” Comcast stated in the report.

It comes as more advertisers are looking to put budgets in CTV and streaming, with the study citing FreeWheel data finding CTV accounted for 63% of total digital ad views in the second half of 2021. An eMarketer reports OTT ad spending is expected to reach $19.1 billion this year and nearly $30 billion by 2024, representing 7.6% of all ad spend.  

“F.A.S.T. is a rapidly growing ad-supported medium for consumers to watch and discover premium streaming content in an environment that mimics linear TV,” said James Rooke, president of Comcast Advertising. “As advertisers look to efficiently maximize their reach in an increasingly fragmented viewing landscape, F.A.S.T services are a valuable complement to traditional TV and other AVOD streaming options as part of a holistic multi-screen media plan.”

Rooke was named president at Comcast Advertising earlier this month, taking over for Marcien Jenckes, who is now heading up a Comcast-Charter joint venture to build a next-gen streaming platform.

As for FASTs, advertisers are also seeing more value, the report indicates.

Horizon Media was quoted as saying “the F.A.S.T. industry has grown exponentially and overlaps quite a bit now with what traditional TV has to offer in terms of both content and audience. Advertising on F.A.S.T. allows us to reach our targeted audience and is a valuable complement to our TV budget.”