Vendors aim to ease FAST friction with new tools, partnerships

As free ad-supported streaming TV continues to garner content owners’ and viewers’ attention, multiple players in the video space have introduced solutions and partnerships to aid in various steps that span FAST channel creation, scheduling, distribution, and monetization.

One of those is Frequency, a key vendor supporting FAST efforts for its content owner and rights holder customers, with its tools already integrated in leading FAST, vMVPD and MVPD platforms. Frequency just launched Studio 5 – the latest release of its cloud-native multi-tenant SaaS platform that enables the creation, management, distribution and monetization of linear channels. Some of the enhanced capabilities of Studio 5 include content ingestion automation, scheduling automation, ultra-low latency live channel switching, advanced content filtering and a suite of tools to streamline management and scheduling of episodic programming.

Speaking to StreamTV Insider in late June, Frequency CEO Blair Harrison explained that one point of differentiation for Frequency in the space is that it is purposefully singularly focused on one part of the FAST chain – the creation and distribution of channels.  It’s very much a pure-play SaaS business that sits squarely in the middle of the FAST supply chain, aiming to provide its customers with tools and services to power their channels.

Although it provides ad tech services, such as compute machinery and interactive tools that are needed to create and manage ad inventory within channels it powers, the company “very deliberately” does not participate in the advertising aspect, meaning not taking share of ad money, inventory and revenue that flows through the pipes of the business.

“Ultimately the way we think about our business is getting the best possible experience on screen for the viewer, and to do that in the most efficient and cost-effective way,” Harrison told StreamTV Insider.

Two other major players supporting the FAST space are Wurl and Amagi. Frequency teamed up with Wurl earlier this year to pair their complementary services of ad monetization and content discovery tools and channel creation and distribution, respectively – another effort to simplify processes and bring the best of both together in what has quickly become a bigger and complex FAST supply chain.

When it comes to the FAST supply chain, Harrison noted that what began just a few years ago as an innovative and relatively small and new part of the video industry is now very large – and excluding mobile - the fastest growing part of the video industry, he said.

“What’s happened is it’s gotten to the point of complexity where customers, especially the more sophisticated customers, are treating what was just this sort of monolithic FAST concept, they’re now treating it as part of their overall global video business and supply chain,” he said, commenting shortly after the Wurl partnership “And as with all things in the supply chain, you want to have the best vendor at every part of the chain and you also often want to have redundancy amongst your vendors.”

The idea behind teaming up with Wurl earlier this year was bringing together Frequency’s best-in-class channel creation and distribution platform with Wurl’s monetization capabilities – which Harrison called “by far the best” particularly from a performance marketing and content discovery capability standpoint – and to pursue customers jointly.

Wurl itself in recent months debuted a new tool focused on increasing return on ad spend by helping streamers and publishers attract and connect viewers to content, leading to increased engagement and retention.

When it comes to thinking about FAST broadly, Harrison cited three elements. The first two being the emergence of the free service and resurgence of linear as a format despite the decline of pay TV as he said it turns out, somewhat surprisingly, the linear or an always-on experience is still an “incredibly valuable part” of the overall set of viewing experiences.

The third is what he sees as a less obvious part, which is the acceleration of the migration of traditional TV infrastructure services to the cloud.

“Companies like Frequency, Wurl and Amagi really accelerated that at a time when a lot of the traditional TV infrastructure guys had, let’s just say been asleep at the wheel, at the very least, sort of missed this opportunity.”

Across those three aspects mentioned, he said the U.S. is still an incredibly healthy market but is getting saturated more quickly, with expectations for a lot of relative growth expected to come from outside the U.S. – although he acknowledged this is still a very open and complex question as to how different markets will evolve.

When it comes to Frequency’s work in the space, it has experience in managing the logistics of very complex distribution footprints, meaning many channels being distributed to many different places. And one key point of friction has always been cost – but FAST has been disruptive, according to Harrison, in terms of not only bringing internet economics to run cloud-based computing services to power the channels, but also new tools to improve operating economics where it may take only one relatively skilled person to do the same function that previously needed half a dozen fairly highly skilled people.

That ties into Frequency’s goal to make its tools and services as easy to use as possible.

“You shouldn’t have to know about complex video workflows and battle with yet another content management system and an esoteric scheduling system. You should be able to use tools that feel and behave like the things you’re already familiar with,” he noted.

Take, for example, Frequency’s scheduling tool, which is modeled on a desktop calendar.

“If you can use a calendar you can use Frequency’s scheduling platform,” Harrison said over the summer. This also goes to Frequency’s aim of continuing to bring down total cost of ownership for content owners, although he acknowledged savings aren’t always easy to precisely quantify. Still, he said, you know it when you see. He described a scenario where there’s a customer operating dozens of channels being distributed to 30 different places “and you can do that with one person, that’s disruptive.”

In its new Studio 5 product, showcased this week at IBC in Amsterdam, Frequency has enhanced scheduling automation, that it touts as making the process of scheduling repeated content significantly faster and simpler. According to Frequency, 80% of content scheduled on linear channels is repeated in one form or another, and scheduling automation is particularly useful when applied to episodic sequence content and setting content placement with scheduling patterns. It says studio users can cut the time spent programming channels by up to 90%.

Amagi, another major cloud based SaaS vendor in the space, also helps power channels and provides solutions to address advertising needs, among other services. Last week Amagi teamed up with Imagine Communications on another aspect of the chain focused on advertising and revenue, with a FAST monetization tool focused on direct inventory sales. The tool integrates Amagi’s Thunderstorm dynamic ad insertion platform with Imagines’ SureFire video ad server. According to the companies, it enables FAST providers to boost ad revenue through direct sales placements alongside programmatic, and provides broadcast-quality ad serving.  

"Our partnership with Imagine Communications underscores our commitment to empowering customers with solutions that amplify their monetization strategies. The introduction of direct sales tools within the FAST landscape is poised to usher in a new era of revenue optimization," said Baskar Subramanian, CEO and co-founder of Amagi, in a statement.

Also getting in on the FAST action this week is Nielsen’s Gracenote, which launched a FAST Program that aims to help publisher launch and distribute FAST channels. It enables publishers to tap into Gracenote’s contextual data and technology products, with propriety unique Gracenote IDs assigned to content distributed on the channels and a certification reflecting their use of the standardized ID and metadata system.

And content owner and technology company Cineverse (which has previously tapped Amagi for FAST services) announced a strategic partnership with Mediagenix for an automated scheduling solution called Matchpoint MGX that’s meant to help channel operators quickly program and schedule FAST channels – promising to enable streaming higher volumes of content to broader audiences at a lower cost.

“The costs to launch a FAST channel are too high and the process required to maintain and schedule a channel is too complex," said Tony Huidor, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology Officer for Cineverse. The new tool integrates Mediagenix’s channel scheduling platform with Cineverse’s Matchpoint automated content delivery product suite to help scale FAST operations, both for managing channels and “also scheduling them far into the future.”

 “This partnership offers channel operators a first-of-its-kind fully integrated, all-in-one FAST channel scheduling and content delivery platform that significantly simplifies the process of managing one channel or dozens of channels," Huidor continued.

For industry views on why scheduling and curation is key for FAST content differentiation, read here.