Professional press, analysts, and even media agreed that FAST should be seen not as competition, but as an additional source of revenue to SVOD and broadcast licensing. Everybody is jumping into this new distribution model by leveraging massive dormant catalogues of old content, from small boutiques to independent network and big studios.
To succeed here, new skills emerged as key factors, such as content scheduling.
Since building up daily schedules of content has a major impact on the success of the channel, content owners re-learned old linear TV tricks to catch - and keep - eyeballs. Content distributors then became channel editors.
From single IP channels (channels based on a single program, think ‘Baywatch’) to theme-based ones or news, editors must build a consistent and attractive channel with a strong brand, prime time, and early morning catchy moments.
Many tools exist in the market for building schedules, like automated and even AI-based ones, but people keep explaining that success is based on the common good sense experience (“high-value content goes to most watched time slots”) and data.
More difficulties arrived then - where broadcasters have for ages, been using data, and ratings to optimise their scheduling, the FAST editor is almost blind. Big platforms (the like of Samsung TV, Pluto, etc.) are more than secretive on audience data and share the bare minimum with editors. This position will probably not stand forever (hello Netflix) and is an opportunity for a data company to join the battle and try to bring back some intelligence in the business.
Once the scheduling is done, a second difficulty arrives: adding advertisement
FAST means that the audience watches for free when brands pay for advertisements. Then, the editor must have another new skill: building an ad inventory.
Following different rules coming from FAST platforms, every hour must include several minutes of ad breaks. This reserved time must contain some default video (‘filler’) to be replaced, last minute, on the end user’s screen by a targeted ad. Depending on the time slot, ad break length can be different: longer ones (the classic 3 minutes) during prime time; shorter ones during the 2 AM-5 AM black zone, etc. Moreover, if you have long content (more than 60 minutes auch as movies, concerts, etc.) then you will have to split them into smaller pieces, to insert breaks, that probably will have a shorter duration to not put off an audience.
The need for advanced tools is here even stronger since an ad break strategy must be elaborated to be sure it will fit the platform’s requirements and it will not ruin the editorial work done during the scheduling phase. Automated content splicing tools using advanced AI, ad break planners, and other services are coming up, but they will make their real value when driven by ad measurement data. Las, again, data is the weak point in this workflow: most FAST platforms manage by themselves the monetisation. A total black box where editors receive simplistic monthly revenue reporting based on revenue sharing.
Very few platforms allow to share the monetisation (called ‘inventory share’) with the editor or a third party. This last situation allows editors to get data and then adjust the scheduling and ad break planning to optimise revenues. Sounds ideal, but it may also highlight a platform’s poor monetisation results and highlight real audience numbers. This transparency looks too early (understand ‘dangerous’) for platforms.
Content providers should not see it as a dead end, since at the same time, newcomers, old VOD platforms, and even broadcasters eventually embraced FAST and started to include channels in their own OTT platforms. Peacock, ViX, NBC universal, Google, Amazon, TV One - a lot of big players and a myriad of local new players offer multiple possibilities to distribute and monetise channel.
Ad inventory - create and control
Controlling the ad inventory will not only become crucial, but will be the biggest challenge for content providers who evolve to become channel editors. Creating and managing this inventory, by inception, during the scheduling, will give the real control on revenue streams and build the channel success.
Big media brands and studios like Fremantle, MGM, and Discovery already took the opportunity and started to get their hands on ad monetisation. A premiumisation process is ongoing, with better content, better scheduling, even first ‘original’ content.
For smaller content providers this is a fantastic opportunity to move up in the value chain and become channel editors, supported by technology providers filling the tech gap they may suffer from. Another way, taken by companies like Filmrise and Cinedigm is to become a curator and then license content from independent content owners to build their own channels.
FAST, in its inexorable rise, has changed the media business in a way that we only now start to realise its profound effects: it blurs frontiers between content providers, distributors, platforms, and monetisation players. One content, a brand, can become a channel and grab a large audience and control its monetisation. New media groups will emerge, and new giant technology providers will flourish. Are you ready for the race?