Gracenote expands FAST metadata, distribution services to smaller US content owners

Nielsen’s Gracenote is working to help smaller and independent content owners in the U.S. get in on the free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) opportunity with metadata management and distribution services.

The vendor has expanded its FAST Program to the U.S. with services to help smaller content owners get in front of large audiences and more easily launch, monetize and increase discoverability of their FAST linear streaming channels.

It follows a European FAST program launch in September 2023, where a Gracenote spokesperson told StreamTV Insider the effort has “generated great momentum,” including onboarding several leading broadcasters and content owners. Globally, Gracenote has helped launch thousands of FAST channels, including through its FAST program for metadata management and distribution, and other initiatives, that are largely aimed at small and mid-sized content owners.

The FAST services from the vendor are primarily targeting new, U.S.-based customers signing deals with Gracenote for the first time to deliver high-quality metadata.  Benefits of the FAST program are underpinned by Gracenote metadata, which is already utilized by tier one broadcasters and would otherwise be hard for smaller content owners to self-curate, alongside access to its distribution partner network of streaming platforms. Each program is backed by Gracenote IDs and then distributed across the vendor’s network that spans leading streaming platforms, which is meant to ensure FAST channel launches are effective.

Growth in frequency of FAST viewership and channels  

Gracenote is working to simplify FAST channel distribution and monetization for smaller content owners in a FAST space that’s capturing viewer attention, but where FAST channels are also increasingly crowded – presenting a challenge for content owners to stand out both to viewers and the services that deliver channels.

Gracenote’s FAST U.S. expansion comes as viewers continue to spend time with free linear streaming amid an abundance of FAST channels to choose from, alongside potential for content owners to generate ad revenue.

In a FAST beginners guide report authored by Gavin Bridge, VP of Media Research at CRG Global, and released ahead of the NAB Show later this month, the firm found that among U.S. adult viewers of FAST, just under half (49%) are watching FAST on a daily basis, while another 39% report watching TV via FAST a few times a week.

And as viewers tune in, both they and the platforms themselves have plenty to choose from in terms of what channels to watch or deliver. To illustrate, per CRG, in February 2020 there were 489 distinct FAST channels across major platform – by February 2024 that had exploded to 1,952 FAST channels across major and medium platforms. And individual services and platforms are growing their respective channel counts, with four services each providing 480 or more channels.  In the latest example of an addition, Roku on Wednesday announced partnering with the NBA to launch the pro basketball league’s first-ever FAST channel – featuring re-airs of games and other NBA content, available exclusively on The Roku Channel for a limited time.

Alongside viewers and channel options, there’s also advertising revenue opportunities for FAST. Per the CRG report, Bridge forecast the domestic FAST market to reach $5.1 billion in 2024. The report noted that projection is revised downward from Bridge’s earlier Variety VIP+ estimate of $5.3 billion, due to the weaker than expected ad market of 2023 with lower revenues “as advertisers initially shifted dollars from free ad-supported streaming options to ad-supported SVOD before realizing that FAST and FVOD offer considerably more users and scale.” (Note, the report distinguishes FAST linear channels from free video on-demand or what it terms “FVOD”).

Metadata for discoverability now and in the future

Gracenote, meanwhile, is looking to reduce complexity of FAST channel launches for smaller players through its new offer, part of which relates to saving time by integrating with Gracenote once and benefiting from distribution of its downstream partners.  Metadata, as mentioned and as it relates to visibility and discovery, is also key.

On the metadata side, when it comes to distribution on FAST services and platforms, Gracenote’s data – and namely genres, have been adopted as standardized descriptors by several major streaming platforms. “This ensures that when different platforms describe the same piece of content, they are using the same common language,” the Gracenote spokesperson explained. It’s also meant to ease the burden for content owners as different streaming platforms can have various data requirements. After content owners submit FAST programs and schedules, Gracenote takes care of submitting enriched, normalized program and EPG data directly to the streaming platforms.

And for content owners, Gracenote said they can be assured their programming is accurately and consistently characterized so that viewers who would be interested can more easily find the content. That’s thanks to the enriched metadata attributed and visual imagery attached to channel content at launch, which in turn helps draw attention and increase viewership for the owner’s programming.

Gracenote also emphasized that content owners utilizing its FAST program can have confidence their free streaming linear channels are set up in a way that will be ready to evolve alongside changes in the FAST user experience.

“Go-to-market complexity in the FAST ecosystem can slow the process of launching channels and getting content in front of entertainment-hungry viewers,” said Tim Cutting, Chief Revenue Officer at Gracenote, in a statement. “By removing obstacles for content owners in the U.S., the Gracenote FAST Program facilitates wider content distribution, better content discovery and deeper viewer engagement. Ultimately, this helps participants maximize ad monetization against their valuable content assets and position themselves for success now and into the future.”

Currently, most FAST services use an Electronic Program Guide (EPG) for linear channel programming schedules. It’s similar to a traditional pay TV service guide from a cable provider that gives a grid-like lineup with some text descriptions and visual imagery.

However, the industry is progressing towards more advanced search and discovery features that could mean finding and watching FAST channels in new ways. 

According to Gracenote, some of those advances include universal search guides that surface content from across different services and platforms, as well as personalized recommendations that pull up programming viewers are likely to enjoy based on elements like mood or theme, as well as viewing history and other preferences. With Gracenote’s metadata able to identify elements of content beyond just genre, content owners utilizing the program will have this information attached to their FAST channels so they can have better discoverability and functionality when new search and recommendation features eventually roll out.