The even Wilder West of FAST-live — Industry Voices: Grebb

Industry Voices Michael Grebb

Consumers who long ago acclimated to the on-demand world of SVODs and AVODs still struggle to navigate Byzantine menus and, even if successful, figure out what to actually watch. Perhaps that’s why the recent growth of free ad-supported streaming television — widely known as FAST-live — has for some generated a certain nostalgia for those days of old when you just sat back and casually channel surfed. But unlike traditional linear or even AVOD environments where years of best practices govern the use of pre-rolls, mid-rolls, and other standard pods, the FAST-live universe remains an untamed frontier with no set rules or customs.

That’s why One Touch Intelligence set out in January to start tracking five of the top FAST-live providers as part of our ADTRAKER® intelligence service. Our monthly audits of five leading FAST services operated by major media companies — NBCUniversal’s Peacock, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV, Roku’s The Roku Channel, Fox’s Tubi, and Comcast’s Xumo — are already starting to paint a picture of what’s happening out there. It’s not always pretty, but we wanted to take a relatively wide snapshot, so each month we’re auditing 30 hours per provider in five-hour blocks of six channels across the genres of Scripted, Unscripted, Movies, Kids, News, Spanish-language and Sports.

Here are just a few highlights of what we found during the January and February audits, with more details covered in OTI’s STREAMTRAK report released this week:

  • Unfilled ad time ate up 3.7 minutes of every hour of FAST-live programming on average, which amounts to roughly half the ad blocks available.
  • The amount of FAST-live advertising time per hour varies widely among providers, with the average hourly ad time ranging from 2.1 minutes to 5.6 minutes after excluding unfilled ad blocks.
  • Peacock ran the most ads during OTI’s audit period, with 739 ads, while Tubi and Xumo ran considerably fewer at 376 and 179, respectively. However, a large proportion of Peacock’s ads were promos for affiliated NBCUniversal programming.
  • Major advertisers like AT&T, The Home Depot and McDonald’s are flocking to FAST-live platforms, but advertising promoting TV content was among the most prominent.
  • Major FAST-live providers have settled into a cadence of roughly five ad breaks per hour, favoring 15- and 30-second ads over longer form ads, according to data collected during the OTI audits.
  • The frequency of ads that repeated within the audited five-hour blocks was high, ranging from 61% to 43% of all available ad time, excluding unfilled time.

The dizzying amount of unfilled ad time on FAST-live channels, while jarring, isn’t necessarily a surprise considering the nascent nature of these services and associated programmatic tools. But it’s still notable that unfilled time ranged from roughly 140 minutes on Xumo to a whopping 463 minutes for Pluto TV. Only Peacock broke from the pack with a barely noticeable six minutes of unfilled time. To be sure, the large amount of unfilled time among most of the leading FAST-live providers is telling, and in one case, our auditors even detected a 30-minute block of dead airtime, which suggests that FAST-live proponents have their work cut out for them when it comes to standardizing best practices.

Ad repetition may also be an area to watch as we collect more data in the coming months. It seems logical that the repetition found within audited five-hour blocks will decrease over time as more advertisers join the FAST-live universe. But it’s also possible that advertisers are purposely running the same ads across those blocks to reinforce messages with consumers. Remember that our audited blocks potentially span several pieces of content and therefore often wouldn’t be considered ad “duplication” under the usual standards applied to AVODs. It’s just another area to watch as FAST-live channels continue to proliferate.

Overall, FAST-live remains an exciting addition to the panoply of content choices now afforded to consumers. And with those choices fast becoming overwhelming, it’s an open question whether the ease, availability, and low-maintenance viewing experience of FAST-live will eventually attract a sizable audience in the U.S. and around the world. And while this report covers a robust 300 hours of content over the audit periods of January and February, it still represents only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what stories this new ADTRAKER® feature will tell over time. We’ll be watching.

Michael Grebb is Vice President and Lead Analyst for One Touch Intelligence, which provides market intelligence and industry analysis services for leading companies in the media and telecommunications space. The One Touch Intelligence STREAMTRAK series is a complimentary service offering industry professionals insights and context around developments in the digital media sphere.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors — often industry experts or analysts — who are invited to the conversation by Fierce Video staff. They do not necessarily represent the opinions of Fierce Video.