Samsung refreshes FAST brand, renews focus on Samsung TV Plus

Samsung has relaunched Samsung TV Plus with fresh logo branding, as the smart TV maker looks to double down on its free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) service.

The relaunch is focused building up premium content with partners, and is rolling out alongside the revamped logo across 24 countries and 465 million Samsung devices including smart TVs and Galaxy mobile devices (and even some smart refrigerators).  

In the announcement Samsung touted significant growth over the last 12 months for its FAST platform that’s integrated into devices and which offers over 220 linear style channels in the U.S. (and 1,600 channels globally) that are browsable in a similar way to cable at no cost. Over the past year the company cited a 100% increase in consumer viewing, including nearly 3 billion hours streamed across the globe.

“We have seen the engagement numbers just go through the roof the past three or four years,” said Sang Kim SVP of Product and Marketing at Samsung, in an interview with Fierce Video, while acknowledging Samsung didn’t know FAST would be so big.

Kim said the response and feedback from users, content partners and advertisers for FAST “has been fairly overwhelming.”

That’s part of why Samsung felt now is the right time for a relaunch.

For its renewed focus on the Samsung TV Plus FAST platform, Kim said Samsung is funneling investment (without putting an absolute number on the amount) into technology and people, but most heavily into higher quality content.

“With the relaunch we’re focusing more and more on the upstream of quality and premium” content, he said – with the majority licensed content coming from industry partners.

Beefing up content

In terms of content, much has changed in the growing FAST landscape since Samsung first launched TV Plus back in 2015. At that time channels were limited and options for content much scarcer.

“When we first came up with the idea and we approached partners, there weren’t many partners that thought this was actually going to work,” Kim noted.

Fast forward to today and things have changed, he said, to where Samsung is making choices rather than taking what was available in the past.

“We have content partners now coming to us, trying to figure ways to get their content distributed on FAST platforms like Samsung TV,” he said.

On the content side Samsung is unveiling new programming partnerships and features, including premium content, news offerings, expanded video on-demand content, owned and operated channels and exclusive premieres. For VOD, Samsung  TV Plus plans to double its library in 2023, leveraging new and expanded partnerships with Lionsgate and others. With owned and operated (which it currently has 50 of) Samsung TV Plus is launching the Ride or Drive auto-focused channel this fall, focused on car fans.

As for premium content, its strengthening partnerships with A+E Networks, The E.W. Scripps Company and BBC studies. That includes its offer of four BBC channels and crime dramas from Scripps Networks like Law & Order Special Victims Unit, NCIS, Chicago Fire and more on IoN.

Another focus is more news options – a genre that Kim said resonates well with FAST viewers. The FAST started with national news and Samsung TV Plus now offers all four major live FAST broadcasters, ABC News Live, CBS News, LiveNow from Fox and NBC News NOW. It also has Bloomberg TV+ UHD, Cheddar News and Telemundo. 

After national news, consumers started asking for local news options, according to Kim. To that end, it’s launching an initiative for expanded live local news and weather to consumers in the U.S., today offering local programming across more than 40 DMAs on Samsung TV Plus.

“Unless you are a must-sports watch fan that you need to watch specific sports, you kind of now have options to get your local news and lean-back experience and linear experience” outside of traditional cable, he said. “It’s really rounding out the experience.”

And as analysts at TVREV have noted, news is a big draw for viewers on FASTs (for example, The Roku Channel just expanded its local news offering from NBC). Along with news, unscripted or reality TV is another genre that Samsung has seen work really well, according to Kim. While there are variations of what content works in what markets, he said consumption is rising everywhere with very similar viewing patterns globally.  

“We are working with, not only exporting content from here [the U.S] but also bringing content from other parts of the world, because we really follow the audience rather than countries,” he noted. “We’re always kind of cross-pollinating to see what content works better.”

Samsung will also look for exclusive content opportunities, he said. For example it’s carrying an exclusive uncut version of Demi Lovato’s Vevo Official Live Performance.

Experimentation continues

With an increasingly crowded and still fragmented streaming space, alongside more price conscious consumers, the use of FAST platforms has been growing in popularity.

A Comcast study leaning on Kantar data found FAST penetration in the U.S. more than doubled year over year in Q4 2021, with six out of 10 households with a connected TV using a FAST service, either exclusively or as a complement to other TV services.  And earlier this month Hub Entertainment Research found 55% of U.S. consumers use at least one FAST service – an increase of nearly 10 percentage points compared to Q4 2021

As a smart TV OEM Samsung also not only owns the FAST platform, but has data at the glass level about TV viewing (in contrast to say media company-owned FASTs like Paramount’s Pluto TV or Fox’s Tubi, among others). In terms of picking content that resonates, Kim said “data tells part of the story and we do make a lot of decisions using data, but also experience.”

It’s Samsung’s job to expose content when viewers know what they want to watch, or ensure the shortest path, as well as browsing when users want a lean-back experience.

“It’s understanding that, and kind of tying that user experience, owning the platform, mixing all the advantages of streaming technology, as well as the familiar lean-back TV navigation experience that all goes into making that sauce,” he said.

In terms of engagement on Samsung TV Plus, which Kim said has been doubling every year, personalization plays a part.

“It’s very flexible and dynamic, even for FAST, it should be personalized for you,” he commented, noting that personalization and recommendations are one of the areas Samsung is investing in with the relaunch.

Still the FAST ecosystem is young, and some elements remain works in progress. Kim said Samsung is continually experimenting with things like ad load, for example. In the linear experience, ad load is fixed, he noted. With streaming the focus is making the best experience for viewers while maximizing monetization, in a win-win for content providers, users and advertisers – something enabled by FAST platforms.

Samsung tests out different ad loads, at a content level, as well as ad formats – considering factors like seasonality and spikes in demand for specific events, according to Kim. Samsung continues to “play a lot” on the ad side and Kim doesn’t see a future where there’s a set number for ad load going forward.

And when partners want to be able to put together different types of content to launch on the FAST, it’s something that can happen much more quickly – with Samsung bringing the process of getting a channel out down to days, or slightly under a week.

“The time it takes to stitch pieces of content, put it up on the channel, is something that was not available before FAST,” Kim said.

As for whether Samsung will look to distribute its FAST service beyond its own smart TV and mobile devices, Kim pointed out that the company is still focused on making the service better every day and said it would be determined by demand.

“We’ll go where the users are,” he said.