Free ad-supported TV (FAST) has continually risen over the years to compete with major subscription streaming platforms for viewers. In 2023, it reached over 100 million viewers, and recent data suggests it will continue to grow.
FAST channels stand out due to their natural allure for consumers—particularly during times of economic uncertainty, where free content becomes especially compelling. As cord-cutting reaches peak levels and streaming brands experience more customer churn, FAST platforms like Pluto TV, Roku Channel, and Tubi are quietly amassing millions of viewers. And for brands, this presents a golden opportunity to reach engaged audiences without breaking the bank. This consumer-friendly approach has played a pivotal role in fostering widespread adoption.
FAST channels accommodate various ad formats, including traditional commercials, sponsorships, and product placements. This flexibility allows advertisers to choose the format that best aligns with their marketing goals and target audience.
There is a lot to love about FAST channels in terms of convenience to the user, advertising opportunities, and its potential to expand on performance. Here, we look at the biggest advantages of advertising in this space and how they compare to traditional TV and ad-supported streaming platforms (Netflix, Hulu, etc.)
FAST channels check all the right boxes for advertisers
FAST channels are a hit with audiences and not only is growth expected to keep climbing, but the share of FAST services is rising and outperforming some streaming services that require a subscription.
But the true value of FAST channels lies in their popularity among crucial demographics, particularly Gen Z and Millennial CTV users. A Morning Consult survey reveals that Millennials frequently use FAST channels, while Gen Z and Millennial CTV users are willing to modify or cancel paid subscription services. With monthly Gen Z CTV viewership expected to reach 56 million in 2025, brands—especially those targeting parents and children—have a golden opportunity to engage with these audiences through FAST platforms.
Compared to linear and heavy ad loads by streaming services overall, FAST channels boast lighter ad loads. For example, Tubi’s ad load is estimated at 4-6 minutes of ad watching per hour of viewing. Fewer ad breaks not only make the viewing experience more enjoyable and your ads less intrusive but can lead to better ad recall and engagement.
As an advertiser, the primary goal is to go where the eyeballs are. Digital impressions in FAST channels ensure that impressions are served where the audience consumes content. This eliminates the uncertainty of casting a net and hoping for the best, providing a more targeted approach.
While it offers some on-demand content and features, FAST services generally follow a TV channel-like structure. FAST platforms tap into the familiarity of traditional TV while delivering the convenience and targetability of digital advertising. This hybrid approach resonates with viewers who miss the channel surfing days but appreciate the personalization of streaming.
How does FAST benefit advertisers in comparison to linear or ad-supported streaming?
If you are deciding where to put your TV ad spend, you need to weigh your decision on a few factors; cost, targeting, reach, and engagement. Let’s break down how they compare between FAST, linear, and ad-supported streaming.
Ad costs for FAST services are generally cheaper than other CTV channels. Advertisers benefit from lower CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) compared to linear TV and often ad-supported streaming. This makes them an attractive place to start for advertisers that are new to buying streaming media.
Advertisers that buy on linear TV or ad-supported streaming platforms are buying based on the type of content itself. The costs on linear TV in particular can vary wildly depending on if it is efficient long tail cable or premium sports and primetime programming.
FAST offers precise targeting capabilities similar to ad-supported streaming. Ads can be placed on specific channels, genres, or audience segments based on demographics and viewing behavior. Linear offers broader targeting based on predefined time slots and demographics. If you are a brand that is looking to reach niche audiences, you will often find it challenging and expensive.
Similar to FAST, ad-supported streaming allows for specific targeting based on user data and viewing habits. This can make ad delivery more precise and potentially increase the effectiveness of the ad spend.
While FAST is growing rapidly, its reach is currently smaller than linear and established ad-supported streaming platforms. This can be a drawback for brands aiming for maximum exposure.
Linear offers widespread reach, especially for live events such as sports and award shows, and popular channels. Ad-supported streaming reaches large audiences, especially on established platforms like Netflix or Hulu. Some of the bigger ad-supported streaming platforms are gaining traction on traditional TV by featuring live events, next-day shows from linear channels, and an expanding library of original programming.
FAST and ad-supported streaming viewers are accustomed to ads due to their respective models, leading to higher engagement. For linear, engagement can vary depending on the program and viewing experience. Ad blocking and commercial skipping remain as challenges.
For budget-conscious brands with targeted campaigns, FAST can be highly cost-effective. It offers precise targeting, high engagement, and a growing audience. Ultimately, the best choice depends on your specific goals, budget, and target audience. Analyze your marketing objectives and consider a mix of channels to optimize your reach and return on investment.
There are plenty of players leading the charge for opportunities
The good news for advertisers is that many FAST platforms are performing well with viewers, and the list of platforms is growing.
Tubi, ROKU, and PlutoTV lead the charge by collectively outperforming all cable networks except the top two, accounting for a higher monthly viewership. In June 2023, these three platforms captured 3.3% of the total TV viewing share in the United States.
Television manufacturers gain a competitive edge through the introduction of FAST networks, instantly accessible to viewers upon powering up their TVs. Leading the charge are prominent brands such as Samsung, LG, and Vizio. These types of FAST offerings are geared towards enhancing the live TV viewing experience and offer around 300+ channels that span news, classic TV, music, and children’s entertainment among many other genres.
How to approach buying on FAST
With so many FAST channels emerging, it can be overwhelming if you are a brand to know where to start. There are two ways to utilize FAST channels in your TV ad strategy.
The first is an efficient broad reach approach.
In this strategy, FAST channels are leveraged to achieve broad reach among diverse audiences. These platforms offer an efficient way to reach many viewers, making them suitable for brand awareness campaigns. Since FAST channels operate in the digital realm, the campaigns can be highly measurable. Advertisers can track and analyze various metrics, providing valuable insights into the performance of their campaigns. This approach is particularly useful when the goal is to maximize exposure to a wide audience while maintaining the ability to quantify the impact of the advertising efforts.
The second approach is more targeted to specific audience segments. Advertisers can layer on audience segmentation, allowing for a more personalized and relevant advertising experience for viewers. By understanding the preferences and characteristics of the target audience, advertisers can optimize their messaging to resonate with specific groups. This targeted play aims to enhance the effectiveness of the campaign by focusing on the most relevant viewers, increasing the likelihood of positive engagement and conversions.
Here are some other important tips you need to know to before you advertise on FAST:
- Think of FAST as a Bundle: Don’t get bogged down by the sheer number of channels. Approach FAST as a unified entity with assorted flavors offered by individual platforms.
- Consider OEM Channels vs. Standalone Platforms: Some channels are exclusive to specific smart TV brands, while others like PlutoTV are available across devices. Choose the right mix based on your target audience and campaign goals.
- Leverage Content Aggregators: Companies like Xumo and Wurl curate content and package it into channels. Partnering with them can simplify your buying process and give you access to a wider range of programming.
- Embrace Targeting and Optimization: Don’t just buy impressions; buy qualified audiences. Use targeting tools to reach the right people at the right time, and optimize your campaigns based on data insights.
- Partner With a Trusted Agency: Work with an agency that has a wealth of experience strategizing, planning, and ad buying. It’s difficult enough to produce the creative that authentically and effectively gets your brand’s message across. Let Ocean Media put you on the best path through a complex marketplace.
Is FAST the silver bullet for every brand? Not necessarily. Consider your target audience, budget, and marketing goals before diving in. But for brands seeking to reach millions of engaged viewers without breaking the bank, FAST presents an undeniable opportunity that is posed to have another massive year.
Whether you are ready to explore advertising on FAST platforms or want to get a better perspective on how the landscape is evolving, please contact our experts!