The Roku Channel adds 9 FAST channels from NBCUniversal

The Roku Channel has added nine new free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels from NBCUniversal.

Here are the latest additions to Roku’s FAST service from NBCU:

GolfPass: Featuring lessons, series, and GOLF Channel news and features
Universal Westerns: A channel with western and frontier series including “The Virginian” and “Tales of Wells Fargo”
American Crimes: Series include “American Greed” and “Lockup”
Top Chef Vault: Featuring a rotating library of past episodes and seasons from Bravo’s “Top Chef” food competition show
Oxygen True Crime Archives: A genre channel focused on true crime including original series
Bravo Vault: A rotating content library from Bravo shows including “Shahs of Sunset” and “Flipping Out”

Also joining The Roku Channel service are three single-series IP channels (sometimes also called “binge” channels depending on FAST platform), including Made in Chelsea, The Lone Ranger, and Lassie.

The new additions join 13 other FAST channels from NBCU on The Roku Channel, alongside NBC and Telemundo local-owned stations.

The Roku Channel continues to add content to its free streaming service as the Roku platform at large simultaneously works to serve up content from a variety of sources. In terms of TV usage, The Roku Channel since May 2023 has consistently nabbed a 1% share of total TV time each month in the U.S., including most recently in December, according to Nielsen’s The Guage snapshot. In December that put Roku behind Fox-owned Tubi (which had 1.4% share last month) and ahead of Paramount-owned Pluto TV (which garnered 0.7% share of TV time).  Other competing FAST platforms like those of fellow smart TV makers, Samsung and LG, or Amazon’s Freevee, Dish’s Freestream, Comcast’s Xumo, Plex and others have not surpassed the 1% threshold to break out of the “other streaming” category on The Gauge.

And while media companies have appeared keen to strike licensing deals that monetize their content and bring library and other programming to FAST platforms, at least one analyst has suggested the rapid rise of FAST usage and content growth could be coming to a close.

Rapid rise of FAST content poised to slow?

In a January 7 post, nScreenMedia analyst Colin Dixon noted adoption of FAST services in the U.S. over the last several years “has been nothing short of amazing.” However, the analyst wrote “the FAST gold rush could be over as signs suggest viewers will slow adoption and content providers rationalize their investment.”

Dixon acknowledged FAST services have been robustly building out the amount of content they offer but suggested growth won’t keep pace in 2024, in part because an endless expansion of channels does not necessarily mean more viewing.

“In cable TV’s heyday, it didn’t matter how many channels a viewer could access; they watched about 17 a month. With channel discovery tools in FAST services no better than with cable, the behavior is liable to be very similar,” wrote Dixon. “And if adding more channels doesn’t increase viewing, there is no reason to do it.”

Some FAST platform executives have indicated a similar sentiment in terms of not adding channels just for the sake of doing so. Pluto TV SVP of Programming Scott Reich told StreamTV Insider (STV) in an earlier interview that the service doesn’t have a quota or set number of channels or categories it wants to offer, but that the audience will dictate the right amount. Reich also noted that even if there are enough channels to support a specific viewing category, it doesn’t mean Pluto will allow underperforming programming to take up space.

“To optimize and not taking up space on the EPG [electronic programming guide] we might move a lot of the content over to VOD,” he told STV this past fall.

And Takashi Nakano, content & business development lead for Samsung TV Plus, told STV in October that while the smart TV maker wants enough programming volume on its FAST service to satisfy any user, it’s not about the number of VOD assets or linear channels.

“It really comes down to how do you bring that one piece of IP to that one user that’s going to be very much interested in and drive engagement that way. And there’s a lot of art and science that goes into this,” Nakano said in the earlier interview. And similar to Pluto’s sentiment, while Samsung TV Plus is always on the hunt for more content, he said it doesn’t make sense to keep stale content that isn’t performing on the FAST platform.

In addition to platforms’ changing needs for content, Dixon said content providers might not want to add more channels as it is. Even though it’s less expensive to launch and operate a FAST channel than cable or broadcast network, the analyst cited many costs content providers face including channel distribution and composition, operational costs, ad sales, as well as their FAST platform partners taking a large share of the ad revenue generated.

“nScreenMedia has heard several content providers complain that some of their FAST channels are losing money,” wrote Dixon.

The analyst believes content providers will lean on experience to make more careful choices when it comes to the channels they launch in 2024, and will decide to shutter those that aren’t making money and pull channels from the FAST platforms that aren’t profitable.

“Content providers will start to rationalize their business this year…” wrote Dixon. “Now that many have a year or two of experience with FAST services, they will be better equipped to judge the content that will work well on a FAST channel.”