LAS VEGAS – While the amount of FAST content now available is large and seemingly only increasing – with thousands of various channels and numerous services each with hundreds of channels – several streaming executives speaking at the NAB Show Streaming Summit Monday feel it hasn’t reached a saturation point – and potentially never will.
“I really don’t believe we’re at saturation phase yet” but maturing, said Aileen Del Cid, head of marketing for free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) service Samsung TV Plus, during a panel session at NAB.
Samsung TV Plus itself has over 250 live streaming channels and thousands of movies and TV shows on-demand. Samsung decided to put increased and renewed focus on its FAST service last summer with a branding refresh and an eye towards premium content.
And in a crowded content space, to Del Cid, quality of experience is going to be a key element that really makes services stand out.
“You really have to pay attention to how your consumers are watching content on every single platform because each experience, user flow, etcetera, they’re slightly different,” she said. Pointing to global services, she added that FASTs can’t always just reuse the same U.S. content in Brazil, for example, but instead need to cater to the user.
“I really think that in maturing as a FAST ecosystem, the networks and programmers, content providers, that really pay attention to and cater to how they’re programming” including ad breaks where “it really feels like a true network” and that will start to stand out.
Scott Olechowski, co-founder and chief product officer at free streaming service and AVOD Plex, agreed FAST content hasn’t reached saturation and instead said the amount of content is “forcing everyone to up their game on the content.”
“So it’s a very nice little virtuous circle there," he said. "But at some point, it’s too much content. You need to help guide people to it,” Olechowski continued.
In fact, he said that’s what’s keeping Plex up at night, with the company funneling a lot of resources into trying to help people find what content they’re going to enjoy, while using app data to help power recommendations and enhance discovery.
“It’s possible, depending on how these interfaces evolve, that we never saturate,” Olechowski said. He added that YouTube is arguably saturated “but somehow it works for those watching plenty of stuff on YouTube.” Still while FAST might never get to the YouTube point of saturation, he does think FAST content will be a bit more dynamic in that way over time.
Music video channel provider Vevo, meanwhile, has around 150 FAST channels live globally at this point. While that may feel like a lot, Bethany Atchison, senior director of distribution partner management at Vevo, said “there are so many genres that we’re not programming against yet.” While it has flagship channels like Vevo Pop, as well as 80s, 90s, among many others, she noted there are a sea of more niche genres that have dedicated fanbases.
“I think this saturation topic is really going to be dictated by the consumers and what they’re looking to watch,” Atchison said.
And for music videos specifically, she said it’s not the same thing that’s appealing to the same person – and adding more options for channels is drawing in new audiences.
“We’ve actually found that as we increase our lineup, we’re increasing our viewership because we’re getting crossover within our channels, but we’re also bringing in new audiences that maybe weren’t served by the channels we’ve been programming initially,” she added.
Chris Knight, president and CEO at lifestyle FAST channel Gusto TV, believes the next few years will be very interesting and anticipates “a culling of the herd.” He noted there might be 3,000 channels out there, and said it doesn’t matter whether watching or cable or streaming but that people tend to have a dozen or so channels that they consistently go back to. And Gusto TV, which is available on 53 platforms in 162 countries, aims to be one of those.
“It’s cutting through the clutter,” Knight said. “We’re confident that once people find us, they stay with us. We’re a very sticky channel which is the nature of lifestyle programmers.”
For example, he said that on Samsung TV Plus, Gusto TV averages 67 minutes per view.
Still, he doesn't think all content will keep its place in the FAST ecosystem.
“I think people are trying to monetize the last nickel out of some content and that will probably go away,” Knight added in terms of anticipation of a flight to quality on FAST content.
In terms of content, it’s one of the biggest changes some on the panel have seen in the evolution of FAST, with Del Cid highlighting a shift to more premium content. Del Cid recalled when she first entered the FAST space in 2019 and Samsung TV Plus was “struggling to get quality content on the platform.”
Now, she said, it’s starting to look more like what traditionally has been seen in the TV space with MVPDs.
“We see a lot of networks, studios, entering the space and bringing a lot of their recognizable IP, creating new ones, and premiering content on FAST platforms. So it’s really begun to mature in that sense,” Del Cid noted.
To that point, Warner Bros. Discovery in January signed content deals with The Roku Channel and Fox's tubi to bring new linear FAST channels and on-demand content to the respective free streaming platforms, including shows like “West World,” “Raised by Wolves,” “The Nevers” and “Time Traveler’s Wife,” among others.
And with more and more premium content coming to FASTs, Atchison said they’ve seen more willingness from advertisers to consider shifting TV budgets into connected TV more so than they have in the past.
“We’re seen a really increased monetization opportunity because of the content being so strong,” she commented.
Article updated to reflect this session took place as part of the NAB Show Streaming Summit.