Gavin Bridge


30. 4. 202430. 4. 2024
Gavin Bridge expects that even smaller markets may be interesting for the expansion of free "streaming TV". After America, it is also gaining ground in the world.

In addition to paid streaming SVOD services such as Netflix, another trend in video viewing is gaining ground abroad. FAST (free ad-supported streaming television) is completely free for users and provides hundreds of linear channels that can be switched between just like traditional TV channels. FAST offers well-known, proven shows from the libraries of major distributors, but also narrowly focused content for specific target groups. All this is complemented by advertising, on which its business model is built.

FAST has a strong presence in America, where it competes with some SVOD services in viewing share, and has expanded to other continents. We spoke to an expert about what FAST is all about. Gavin Bridge has been analyzing the FAST market and trends for several years and founded The FASTMaster project. He is also vice president of media research at CRG Global. In an interview with, he talks about the size of the FAST market, further growth opportunities, or whether FAST can expand even further in countries like the Czech Republic, where it is currently only marginally present.

Why is FAST so important right now? It is not the hottest topic in the industry in the Czech Republic, but it is a trend globally. Why is this so?

It's because of what's happening in the US. The US is a specific case because of the size and scope of the FAST market. But the fact that consumers have embraced a free linear streaming format that includes ads has caught the attention of people around the world. With the advent of Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney+, most of these platforms built their name on being ad-free. And people thought that was the future - viewers would pay extra to not have ads. And then they found that if you have a reasonable level of ads, it's acceptable. If you watch a drama at 8:00 p.m. on a channel like ABC in America, you'll see up to 22 minutes of commercials an hour. If you watch FAST, you get 7 to 11 minutes an hour. Here in the U.S., it has opened the eyes of the industry because it has shown that people tolerate commercials. They just don't want to tolerate tons of commercials. There is a limit.

Another fairly significant trend in the U.S. is "cord cutting", the cancellation of cable TV subscriptions...

The US is different from Europe when it comes to cord cutting because of the cost. In America, cable and internet costs at least $200 a month. People don't want to do that anymore. That was another factor that played in FAST's favor. The industry thought that everyone just wants to watch video on demand, on demand; they don't want to have a linear experience anymore and watch classically programmed channels. Once brands got involved in FAST, starting with Viacom's purchase of Pluto TV in 2019, it opened the door for other companies.

What about hardware predispositions?

Every smart TV now has FAST built in, and that's another reason for its growth. I bought a Samsung monitor and even that has a [FAST] button on the remote; Samsung TV Plus is built into the computer monitor. So whenever you buy a new TV, whether it's a high-end TV or a lower-end TV, they all have FAST services built in. Consumers around the world are discovering them organically to some extent when they first connect the TV to the Internet. This is an underestimated factor as to why FAST will grow in countries outside the US as well.

And the content?

That's another factor. Running a FAST channel comes with much lower operating costs than running a TV channel. So you can have channels focused on what would traditionally be called specific interests. In the US, for example, there are six FAST channels focused on skiing. You couldn't have a ski channel on TV, but even in smaller areas that have, say, 15-20 million people, you can create these channels. Even if 20,000 viewers go to them for an hour or two a day, an hour or two a week, it's easy to monetize. FAST allows viewers to find content that they might have found on YouTube, but not really on a TV channel before.

So FAST is reaching some niche segments as well?

Yes, but it's a mix. There are universal channels and then very niche channels. Surfing has several channels. Or the newer sport of pickleball, for example. In the US, there are two FAST channels for pickleball. There was no such channel on TV, but you can have two on FAST.
In the US, for example, there are six FAST channels dedicated to skiing. You couldn't have a ski channel on TV, but even in smaller areas that have say 15-20 million people, you can create these channels.

How many FAST channels are there anyway?

Across the large and medium FAST services in the U.S. last month, there were 1,962 different channels on about 20 platforms. If we focus on the entire world, that's an estimate of maybe four thousand FAST channels. Different markets do it differently. In Australia, for example, FAST has been adopted by local broadcasters with their archival content. So you have "single IP" channels, focused on one single show. If there's a big hit in that country, you can create a channel for it. This helps increase the number of FAST channels.

In general, what are the most popular FAST channels globally?

News is doing really well, both national and local. You see traditional newspapers leaning towards digital video and creating channels. I did some research at CRG Global, the company I work for, and we found that one of the key factors for the growth of the FAST segment is that viewers can't find that content anywhere else. For example, it's older dramas, old popular comedies that aren't being broadcast anywhere. In the United States, for example, you don't have many documentary channels on traditional cable TV anymore. There are plenty of documentary stations on FAST. There's a lot of true crime channels. Food, travel, even paranormal has a lot more space on FAST than it does on traditional television. Game shows are doing fantastically well on FAST. Movies have a strong presence and now some studios have adopted the strategy. Sony and Lionsgate have movie FAST channels, Warner Bros. is starting to do it, Universal... They're creating channels around their film libraries and putting not only stuff from the '70s-'80s, but newer films as well. The sports vary by region. In the US, sports rights cost billions of dollars; there's no way major sports are on FAST as the first platform. A marked difference from this is India, where they put the IPL, the cricket's Indian Premier League, on the FAST channel last year and got 600 million viewers.

In terms of content, will the new premium content still be exclusive to SVOD platforms while FAST will remain archive?

Most is archival, but there are already some companies that are either creating originals for FAST or combining FAST and free-to-air on demand platforms. Tastemade won a Daytime Emmy for their show Struggle Meals, which was created for FAST. Amazon Freevee won a Daytime Emmy for the show Judy Justice, which was created for FAST and AVOD. Dean Devlin, who produced Independence Day and Godzilla, has the FAST channel for his Electric Entertainment studio. On FAST, the first two episodes of the cable series The Ark aired to boost the cable channel's ratings. Also, one thing I've heard from many companies is that windowing - the time it takes for a show to get from SVOD or TV to FAST - is decreasing. FAST used to be, say, the tenth window and now it's the third or fourth. Until the next season of a new show comes out, you can always keep a fan interested in FAST, which I think is one of its key values.
The time it takes to get a show from SVOD or TV to FAST is decreasing. FAST used to be, say, the tenth window and now it's the third or fourth window.

What does the business of FAST TV look like? Is it primarily a revenue share model?

Mostly yes. With the advent of larger companies, that's starting to change, so if you're a large broadcaster and you have an ad sales department, you may decide to sell some of the ad inventory on FAST yourself. And even then it will be at least a 50-50 split between the platform and you. A lot of companies use the revenue share model because if you're one of the smaller niche channels, you may not have the capabilities to start reaching out to media agencies. I heard of one FAST company in the US that collects licensing fees and says, "You can pay us for the channel and if you make more on advertising, great for you. We want money up front." We'll see if that continues, but for now revenue share prevails. Which is very interesting because it's bringing companies like Samsung, LG, TCL into the ad sales that have traditionally been just device manufacturers. It's opened up a whole new world for some of them to generate revenue.

How profitable can FAST be? Is it less lucrative for broadcasters who are used to having their channels on cable TV, collecting licensing fees and selling ad space? Whereas on FAST they have to share advertising revenue and usually get no money for distribution.

In the short term, potentially yes. Media companies here in the US are very concerned about cannibalization of customers, but that has always bothered them. They asked, "If we put reruns of our series on cable TV, will anyone watch the new episodes on free-to-air?" It's not irrational, but people are always afraid of the new. The key thing to consider is that with FAST you're reaching people you can't reach on cable. They choose not to watch cable and instead watch FAST. If you want maximum reach, it makes sense to distribute content on FAST as well. There are several channels in the US that place live streams of their cable or FTA broadcasts on FAST. For example, ION, which is owned by Scripps, does this. They have a lot of popular reruns like NCIS and Blue Bloods, so they are one of the most watched channels on FAST. BBC News, which is run by AMC Networks in the US, now has its cable station flipped over at FAST. If you're reusing existing content, it doesn't cost much to run a FAST channel. If you as a company can make $50 million a year on FAST, that's money you're getting for nothing.

Is it possible to estimate how much money is in FAST, especially from advertising?

The last figure from Pluto TV, released in Q4 2022, was about $1 billion in revenue, which I would estimate at about $800 million in the US. I think the total FAST market in the US will be worth about $5 billion to $5.5 billion this year. And the rest of the world could probably be 1 billion. So about 6.5 billion for the world in 2024.
I think the total FAST market in the US will be worth about $5 to $5.5 billion this year. And the rest of the world could probably be 1 billion. So approximately 6.5 billion for the whole world in 2024.

What are the other strong markets for FAST besides the US? And what markets might follow?

The UK, Germany, Canada and Australia are the strongest. Korea is really pushing for this. It wants to become a strong player in FAST, helped by the fact that two of the leading TV manufacturers that operate FAST platforms are from Korea. India is well on its way, Brazil is very strong and then some African countries like Nigeria and South Africa. I would also keep an eye on Mexico. Possibly Argentina, because the scale and the way of viewing is different there; free TV is strong there. It is not quite the same as in Europe. I think that's why FAST hasn't spread so much in France, for example, compared to the UK. It's also due to the fact that content has to be localised, people want to watch their regional content. The strategy will probably change over time. Some big companies have assumed that they just need to slap the same channel everywhere, but we will see a tweaking of that strategy.

What are the barriers to FAST? You've already mentioned the need for local access; is there anything else?

Overall awareness. Even the big companies in the US don't have a lot of money to spend on advertising. These channels exist and people would follow them if they knew about them. Also, traditional media companies owning some of these channels won't push people into free versions. They don't want people actively accessing them because it could cut into their profits too quickly.

The Czech Republic has strong free linear TV, cable TV is more affordable than in the US, we have a strong tradition of dubbing. If you add in Slovakia because of the language proximity, it's a market of, say, 16 million. Can this market attract the big FAST players to expand here?

It is possible. Let's look at Australia. Australia has only 27 million people, which is less than the US or Canada. It just needs to get the scale of its FAST offering right. If the US has almost 2000 channels, then in a smaller market you might have 200 channels. If I was running a media company, I would want to have a service in every country because even if you make $3 million in one country and $10 million in another, it adds up. I think we're going to see that. It's just a matter of scale. People have gotten carried away with the breadth of American FAST, but the scale is going to come off the size of the population. You can't have too big a range of channels because then it will be too expensive and it won't make financial sense.

Will it be a similar story to SVOD perhaps? When Netflix came to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, they didn't localize anything at first, they didn't provide subtitles. And then it slowly localized more and more. Can we expect something similar with FAST?

Yes, but also AI dubbing can allow you to take foreign content and localize it more easily. It seems realistic, the technology is improving quite fast. That will help. You can have a cooking show or some other show and watch it in the right language.
If I ran a media company, I would want to have a service in every country because even if you make $3 million in one country and $10 million in another, it adds up.

Where does FAST stand in the whole video ecosystem? Is it a competitor to SVOD, linear broadcast, cable...? Or do you think it will somehow coexist?

I think it's complementary for most. Some will use it as their main means of entertainment, but most people will find new episodes of a series on TV or SVOD. But you are able to monetize fans of the series even if you don't have a new episode of the series on FAST right now and offer reruns. I think it's complementary and part of the strategy of big media companies to reach specific interests.

The market is dynamic, but can you predict what the future of FAST is in say 2-3 years?

I think we will see something event driven. FIFA+ has offered a world club championship. In many countries it was the only way to watch it, it wasn't on traditional TV. Maybe we'll see simulcasts of the World Cup or European finals on FAST if the same company owns the FAST channel. More consumers will find FAST because of replacing old TVs - and the new ones have FAST built in. FAST will continue to grow, viewers will use it, and media companies will too, and they won't lose the opportunity to monetise their audience.

What would you put your money on - FAST, SVOD, AVOD or something else?

I'd say on SVOD adding premium versions of FAST channels under a paywall - creating channels based on their content that you only get access to if you pay. I think that would be an interesting feature.

Gavin Bridge

Gavin Bridge is Vice President of Media Research at CRG Global. He is behind The FASTMaster, where he shares analysis, news and trends about the FAST market. In the past, he has prepared analytical pieces for Variety.

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