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  • Writer's pictureRussell Vilardi

The A-to-Z Guide to Free, Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST)

Woman holding remote control watching free ad-supported streaming TV.

What is FAST? In the world of OTT streaming video, FAST stands for free ad-supported streaming TV. It’s the fastest-growing type of streaming service today.

Do you know how FAST works and how it compares to other streaming models? More importantly, do you know how to make money from FAST? You’ll find all that information and more in this A-to-Z guide to FAST.

Key Takeaways

  • FAST stands for free ad-supported streaming TV.

  • FAST services deliver linear programming with commercials over the Internet.

  • FAST differs from AVOD in that it’s linear-only and not video-on-demand.

  • FAST is the fastest-growing OTT content delivery model today.

What is Free, Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST)?

FAST is a streaming video delivery model that is revolutionizing the OTT market. FAST content is free for viewers, without the need for costly subscriptions. Revenue comes from selling ad space in streaming programming.

FAST differs from other advertising-supported OTT models as it doesn’t offer content on demand. Instead, it embraces traditional linear programming, offering content in a selection of content-focused channels. Content is presented in a grid-like program guide that viewers scroll through, similar to the program guides offered by cable and satellite providers. Ads are served before, after, and during all programming.

FAST channels feature multiple TV shows or movies arranged one after another to mimic the traditional linear viewing experience. Viewers can’t start and stop FAST channels on demand. Instead, they select a channel to watch and are served whatever program the provider is streaming at that moment. It’s like traditional broadcast or cable television but streaming over the Internet.

How Big is FAST?

FAST is the fastest-growing segment of the streaming video market today. According to Statista, 58% of all viewers in the U.S. watched one or more FAST services in 2022, up from the 48% in 2021. Amagi reports that FAST viewership hours more than doubled from 2021-2022.

While subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services such as Netflix and Disney+ still command the most viewers, the top FAST services are gaining ground, holding three of the top 10 viewership positions. The most popular FAST services today include Peacock, The Roku Channel, Tubi, and Pluto TV. (Some of these services also offer add-supported on-demand content in addition to their FAST channels.)

Share of U.S. adults using OTT services; FAST services are highlighted in blue.

How is FAST Different from AVOD?

Many casual observers confuse FAST with AVOD (advertising-supported video on demand). The main difference lies in the “on-demand” aspect. True AVOD services offer only on-demand content, with no linear channels. In contrast, true FAST services offer only linear programming, without on-demand content.

In the world of OTT streaming, AVOD came first, evolving from the subscription-based SVOD model. FAST is a newer development, offering viewers a traditional linear viewing experience, supported by the occasional commercial.

Many services offer a hybrid mix of FAST and AVOD. For example, Pluto TV presents viewers with a program guide for linear viewing while also offering much of that content in a library for on-demand viewing. To date, only a few AVOD services have added FAST linear viewing.

How Pluto TV pivoted from AVOD to FAST

How is FAST Different from Traditional Broadcast or Cable Television?

Some compare FAST to traditional broadcast or cable television, and there is some truth in that. FAST, like broadcast or cable, isn’t on demand. Viewers must watch what is being broadcast or streamed at that moment. They can’t start and stop their viewing – it has to be consumed from start to finish. Viewers choose from a selection of pre-programmed channels and don’t have any choice over what is programmed.

The big difference between FAST and traditional broadcast or cable television is that FAST channels are served over the Internet, not over the air or through cable. To watch FAST channels, a viewer needs a connected TV or streaming media player, like a Roku or Amazon Fire device. This enables viewers to cut the cable cord and watch FAST programming for free – with commercials, of course.

FAST also differs from traditional programming in the large number of channels available. Most areas of the country have fewer than a dozen broadcast TV channels and most cable packages only offer 100-125 channels. The more than 20 available FAST providers today offer over 1400 free channels for consumers to view.

Why is FAST Growing?

Several factors contribute to the substantial growth of FAST channels. The most important reasons include:

  • FAST services, with their user-friendly program guides, are easy to use.

  • FAST services are comfortable for viewers who’ve watched traditional broadcast TV and cable services all their lives.

  • FAST services provide instant satisfaction without having to search for and select on-demand programming.

  • FAST services, especially those offering live programming, create a sense of community with other viewers watching the same programming at the same time

  • FAST services make it easy to discover new content by simply scrolling through the program guide.

The popularity of FAST services depends on viewers’ acceptance of commercials in the programs they watch. Viewers have been watching traditional broadcast television with commercials for decades, so it’s easy for them to accept similar commercials in FAST programming. These viewers are willing to tolerate a few commercials each hour in return for not having to pay hefty monthly subscription fees.

How Do FAST Services Generate Revenue?

FAST services don’t charge viewers hefty monthly subscription fees. Instead, they generate revenue by inserting advertisements into the programs they stream.

Unlike SVOD services that are constantly fighting subscriber churn, FAST providers enjoy a steady income stream from this advertising revenue. And, with the growing popularity of FAST, ad revenue is also on the rise.

According to Conviva, ad impressions on FAST channels grew 18% from 2021 to 2022. Omdia projects that global FAST ad revenues will surpass $12 billion by 2027, tripling the slightly over $4 billion generated in 2022.

FAST channel revenues 2019-2027.

The Bottom Line: FAST is Big and Getting Bigger – and Penthera Can Help Maximize FAST Revenues

Viewers are embracing the free ad-supported model presented by FAST and AVOD services. They also like the familiar linear programming model and the ability to scroll through easy-to-use program guides. It’s a winning combination for all involved – viewers, OTT providers, and advertisers.

To maximize FAST advertising revenues, turn to the streaming video experts at Penthera. Penthera’s 2nd Look solution makes it easy for advertisers to micro-target consumers in real-time – and for FAST providers to reliably deliver those ads. FAST services maximize their ad yield, advertisers get higher response rates, and viewers enjoy a superior viewing experience.

Contact Penthera today to learn more about FAST services.


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