At the recent 2023 upfronts, a key feature uniting the commercial free-to-air (FTA) platforms and Foxtel was the growth of FAST channels to cater to consumers changing viewing habits. FAST is an acronym for Free Ad-supported Streaming Television.
“People talk a lot about how TV is changing, and about how broadcasters are finding ways to make sure Australians can access the content they want amidst new and emerging viewing habits,” ThinkTV chief executive Kim Portrate told Mediaweek.
“We have seen in the last 12 months that BVOD is being consumed in different ways by Australians with more and more live stream viewing on broadcaster’s platforms.
“It’s true that some people use streaming as a catchup TV service, but a growing number are now using BVOD in the same way they used to watch regular TV. And even more interesting, plenty of people now do both.
“Alongside this change in viewing, the customer experience when watching programs on BVOD platforms is improving because Australian broadcasters understand the power of local, professionally produced content.
“More than simply curating similar content, they are creating bespoke channels that audiences want, helping to overcome ‘choice paralysis’. It’s a way to help consumers who can’t decide what to watch. Given how much great programming is now available, FAST channels can help them with that.
“FAST channels are an interesting way for broadcasters to respond to changing viewing habits. It sees them evaluating the value of their content and curating it in a way that is easy for people to grab hold of.”
Globally, broadcasters are creating FAST channels that bring together news content, series-based programming, or aggregated content tied to a theme. For example, locally, Foxtel created a Game of Thrones/House of the Dragon channel to appeal to fans of the franchise while Seven has the Crazy In Love FAST channel that brings together a collection of reality programs. Meanwhile, 10 has an Aussie Drama channel.
From an advertising perspective, Portrate noted that serving specialist content in a single destination presents an opportunity because, “engaged program fans are more attentive, and, as we all know, greater attention drives better business outcomes. It can give an advertiser who might not have their own data the opportunity to engage with an audience whose interests align with their products.”
FAST channels: Easy access
Portrate: “The good news is viewers don’t have to pay more for the channels. If you are a Foxtel subscriber, you get the channels. And Seven and 10 channels can be accessed for free via connected TVs or apps with Nine channels launching soon in the same way.
“The content is also available everywhere on every device.”
For marketers trying to determine where FAST channels fit within their media mix, Portrate has the following advice. She says: “We recommend marketers use the big beautiful screen in the heart of our homes to get high-velocity reach, with BVOD – including FAST channels – a way to extend that.
“The icing on the cake is that FAST channels provide more content options for advertisers from a targeting, demographic and interest point of view.”
ThinkTV’s research has consistently found campaigns that include TV + BVOD (including FAST channels) see twice the sales impact versus TV + social media advertising.
Unsurprisingly, research shows advertising investment in FAST channels is expected to grow exponentially over the next couple of years, particularly in the US where FAST services feature high Net Promoter Scores which suggests viewers are satisfied and loyal.
Australian FAST channels
• As part of its 2023 transformation, 9Now will introduce FAST channels specially curated to allow viewers to immerse themselves in their favourite program or genre. This is in addition to the much anticipated “start over function” coming to the platform.
• Seven currently has more than 50 FAST channels live on 7plus. In December, Seven launched the Home and Away channel featuring hand-picked classic episodes as well as Crazy In Love, a channel bringing reality fans a curated schedule of hit shows including Back with the Ex, First Dates Australia, Extreme Weddings, The Single Wives and Yummy Mummies. The 7plus FAST Channels offering will evolve throughout 2023 with the addition of new channels, providing greater viewing choices for audiences and an optimal environment for advertisers.
• In November, Paramount launched 13 new FAST channels offering a broad range of curated content for super fans to double down on their favourite shows or genres. Channels include MasterChef Australia, Baywatch, Australian Survivor, an Aussie drama channel featuring Puberty Blues, Rush and The Secret Life of Us. In December, three more channels were added including the Merlin channel for lovers of magic and warlocks and the Geordie Shores. 10 Play viewers can also watch The Challenge on a new dedicated channel.
Broadcasters comment on initiatives
At the 2023 upfront, Seven West Media chief digital officer Gereurd Roberts said: “Our FAST channels have streamed over 300 million minutes so far in 2022 and have been a driver of growth for 7plus, as people embrace the ‘lean-back’ experience of watching a curated, scheduled channel.”
Rod Prosser, chief sales officer Paramount ANZ, said late in 2022: “Our new FAST channels will deliver a win-win for audiences and advertisers alike, providing targeted opportunities for marketers to reach key audiences with distinct interests, tastes and even passions, who want to know more about products and services aligned to their interests.”
As Nine revealed the overhaul of 9Now at its 2023 Upfront, it added the redesign will also introduce a new 24/7 Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST) channel with exclusive additional content and an interactive advertising experience on connected TVs (CTV), offering live in full HD.
Regarding Foxtel’s 2023 strategy, it announced recently Binge opportunities for advertisers are coming, a revelation at the Foxtel Upfront that had buyers taking notice. “We have successfully been building the Binge platform with the latest public numbers close to 1.5m,” Foxtel Media CEO Mark Frain told Mediaweek. “The success that AVOD platforms have been experiencing globally is being mirrored here.”