Vizio’s WatchFree+ FAST service doubles viewing hours

Smart TV maker Vizio on Tuesday disclosed increased viewing on its WatchFree+ free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) service, alongside expanded content offerings.

According to Vizio, WatchFree+ viewing hours more than doubled over the past 12 months, based on internal data. Just how many hours that equates to wasn’t disclosed and a spokesperson declined to share more specifics. The fastest growing categories by hours on the FAST service year over year included Mood + Ambiance, Game Shows and TV in the first half of 2023. Mood + Ambiance was also the fastest growing category by hours year over year in the second half of 2023, followed by Infomercials and Game Shows.

The platform touted a sizable usage increase while also announcing new menu categories for better discovery and additional premium programming, including from Warner Bros. Discovery, Lionsgate, Electric Entertainment and Sony. WatchFree+ is also launching new Vizio-curated channels.

Vizio’s WatchFree+ FAST now counts over 300 free linear streaming channels, 15,000 on-demand titles, and 10 curated channels that are programmed by the smart TV maker in-house. The new channel count comes a day after competing smart TV maker Samsung disclosed its Samsung TV Plus FAST service channel tally has grown to 350 in the U.S.

As for new content, WatchFree+ has added 11 new channels from WBD, including Bachelor Nation, featuring moments and episodes from the Bachelor reality TV franchise and single-series IP channels for bridal reality show “Say Yes to the Dress” and action thriller “Nikita.” Episodes of these shows are also available on-demand.

In addition, WatchFree added six Lionsgate channels, including MovieSphere featuring blockbuster films, Ebony TV by Lionsgate offering premium content tailored to Black audiences, and an inspiring women-focused channel, HerSphere by Lionsgate. The studio is also contributing fantasy shows with a forthcoming Outersphere by Lionsgate channel and single-IP channels including the game show “Celebrity Name Game” and a channel dedicated to paranormal reality series “Ghost Hunters.”

Recent data from Samsung Ads found that reality TV shows are one of the leading genres proliferating FAST channels. 

Vizio also said its curated channels have gained traction on the platform, including Investigation and Fork & Flight, which rank in the top five in their genres, according to average daily unique devices data for Q4 2023.  Vizio now counts 10 channels dedicated to specific interests, with two new Vizio-curated thematic channels joining the lineup. Those include Comedy Club, delivering stand-up comedy, documentaries and shows featuring comedians like Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, Lewis Black and others. Additionally, the Valor channel is joining WatchFree+ in February, featuring military films, TV series and documentaries.

“WatchFree+ has solidified its position as the premium, free streaming destination for VIZIO households, thanks to our ever-expanding content offering, major studio & network partnerships, and enhanced user experience,” said Katherine Pond, group vice president of Platform Content & Partnerships, in a statement. “With these latest programming additions and product updates, WatchFree+ continues to deliver an entertainment experience that consumers love.”

And as FAST platforms continue to expand content, there becomes the common issue of content discovery and just how viewers can quickly find programming that’s interesting to them among hundreds of channel and on-demand options.

To that end Vizio said it’s enhanced the navigation of its electronic program guide (EPG), with new menu categories including History, Documentaries, Nature & Science, Entertainment, Mood & Ambiance and more.

Vizio has found success in advertising opportunities from both WatchFree+ service and placements on its smart TV home screen interface. In the past several quarters Vizio’s advertising revenue continued to climb, despite dips in hardware device sales. In Q3 Vizio disclosed plans to explore licensing its TVOS to third-party OEMs. Vizio reports Q4 earnings on February 27.