It seems that FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV) platforms are continuing to shoot themselves in the foot by withholding much of the user data that content providers and channel creators need in order to hone ad tech and audience awareness.
A panel at this week’s Media & Entertainment Summit 2022 highlighted the dangers that this chokehold poses to the monetization potential of an already financially dubious streaming format.
“I used to get more data from Amagi than I did from Roku!,” exclaimed Bea Hegedus, Executive MD of Distribution at Vice Media Group (VMG). The fact that playout vendors are more generous with data than platforms with direct touchpoints with end users is a puzzlingly lopsided situation. Hegedus does, however, note that distributor platforms are starting to loosen up.
This is certainly not the first FAST panel that Faultline has attended where Roku has come under fire. Back at the OTT.X Fronts in April, the giant of connected TV was slandered for putting seedling FAST platforms out of business with huge minimum budget requirements for customer acquisition – as much as $250,000 a quarter.
Jon Cohen, SVP of Business Development and Channel Distribution at LA-based monetization vendor Frequency, echoed the importance of channels accessing user data. “Content providers and channel owners often have different audiences for the same channels depending on which platform they are distributed on,” he noted.
Although suspiciously tight-lipped on specific numbers, Banijay Rights’ VP of Digital, Shaun Keeble, says that FAST is merely offering incremental revenues, but the company is seeing consistent growth through revenue share models.
“We are constantly looking at profit and loss for each individual channel with a fine-toothed comb – we aren’t launching channels for the sake of it,” he continued.
VMG’s Hegedus was far bolder. “Our channels are profitable. Yes, Vice sometimes does things purely to grow the brand, but not this,” she stated, arguing that FAST offers the perfect opportunity to consistently repackage and monetize the same assets – “make it once, sell it twice.”
FAST revenues are already significant within VMG’s balance of distribution models, with Hegedus expecting that they will overtake other ad revenue streams within the next few years.
However, VMG’s roots in short-form content has proved to be an achilleas heel when it comes to recycling legacy content. It seems stitching short-form assets together in a sensical manner that also fits with most platform’s rules around ad pod timing can be quite the headache.
Akhila Khanna, VP of Partnerships and Business Development UK at Paramount, resonated with this repackaging initiative, arguing that there is a big user base that is highly receptive to old titles that can become the next nostalgia zeitgeist. She also pointed out that FAST can be an onboarding funnel to upsell paid content packages that should, on paper, be more profitable.
With Paramount spending $15 billion on content a year, FAST allows a consistent recycling of library content via the Pluto TV platform. “We program to have a wealth of niche channels, but there should still be something for everyone. Everyone should be able to find something and binge effortlessly,” Khanna argued.
But those viewing FAST as simply an opportunity to breathe life into old content are ignoring the data. According to Amagi, news now makes up one third of FAST traffic in the US, although European viewership is apparently far more fragmented when it comes to viewer’s genre preferences.
Interestingly, Banijay is not pursuing the news at all. “We are bullish on premium content, and do not offer any news or sports,” says Keeble. Often this comes in the form of single IP channels for series like Deal or No Deal or Survivor, although Keeble cautioned that all IP has a shelf life before it gets stale on the FAST carousel.
There are some other benchmarks required to become a single IP channel – 100 hours of content minimum, for example.
Banijay Rights is the largest independent content studio in the world, but a relative newbie to FAST. The studio began 2022 with just three channels to its name, but this has now grown to over 15, with the channels syndicated across over 50 content platforms.
With barely seconds to go, Faultline’s burning question about the viability and likely roadmap of personalized FAST channels was not given adequate consideration by the panel.
Only Amagi’s Hari was able to give any opinion on the matter, noting that the company was already in discussions with several sports platforms to explore personalizing the EPG and playout according to the tastes of individual customers. However, he cautioned that personalized content, as well as other personalized features like ticker tape, are all still very much theoretical.