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The State of FAST: Around the Horn with Fubo, Estrella Media, and HARTBEAT

With all the talk of FAST 2.0 and the explosion of FAST channels to the point of approaching market saturation, is FAST’s self-reinvention a foregone conclusion, or even advisable at this juncture? What are the new and emerging FAST growth strategies that are driving growth today, as opposed to a year or two ago? And how have the strikes in Hollywood that consumed at least 2 quarters of the year impacted channel and content development? At Streaming Media Connect 2023, Chris Pfaff of Chris Pfaff Tech Media posed these questions to three executives from key players in the FAST ecosystem: HARTBEAT, Fubo, and Estrella Media.

For Kevin Hart-founded entertainment network HARTBEAT (formerly known as Laugh Out Loud), the emerging FAST strategy has been surprisingly YouTube-focused. “We’re seeing more growth in viewership minutes and numbers, but with the caveat that where we're seeing that growth is on the big ones--Tubi, Pluto, Samsung, Roku," says Jeff Clanagan, President and Chief Distribution Officer at HARTBEAT. "We just launched a FAST channel on our YouTube page, which is doing extremely well. We've only been up about four months now. The advantage that we had in doing that is we already had a YouTube page that had five million subscribers on it. So what we were able to do--which I think only a couple of people have done-- is launch our FAST stream on our YouTube page versus a separate FAST stream in another environment in YouTube. So we are able to tap into that audience that we've already curated."

For sports-centric live TV streaming network Fubo, the strategy of leaning heavily into FAST with new channel launches has continued apace despite the writers and actors strikes that have largely halted the production or infusion of new content. "Fubo is a live streaming platform," says Fubo VP, Content Strategy & Acquisition Marisa Elizondo. "We're sports-focused. We've leaned in very heavily over the past year into the FAST space thinking, 'There is probably a happy medium between the FAST world and the traditional linear networks. So over the past year, we were taking a slow and steady approach to launching FAST channels, and we actually leaned in quite heavily and launched about 100 FAST channels. And what's unique about us is that we've mixed them in between all of the packaging. So if you pulled up our channel lineup, you would see that all of the FAST channels are kind of mixed in. And it's been great. Despite the strikes, we have still had a ton of inbound requests of new networks that are trying to get launched, trying to get eyeballs. So I'm rather busy in taking all of those, but I don't think the strikes have deterred any independent nets or new nets from trying to get additional distribution."

“FAST has grown significantly," said Christina Chung, VP Business Operations at Spanish-language multi-platform media company Estrella Media. "In the last three years, our business at Estrella has really grown from FAST distribution at $0 to a multi-million-dollar business. We work with a number of different partners such as Fubo where we have our four channels: Estrella TV, Estrella News, Estrella Games, and Cine Estrella, which is our movie channel. And we've seen astronomical growth because I think viewers in the world are looking for places where they can find content outside of just buying a cable subscription or a broadcast subscription. So it is an opportunity to have a free ad-supported television experience that is very similar to the traditional linear business. And Estrella has put all of our marketing dollars into FAST and do have our own app, but FAST is our bread and butter at this point. It's grown into this behemoth where we work very closely with all of our different distribution partners and we work on different content strategies with each of them."

Learn more about the evolving state of FAST at the next Streaming Media Connect in November 2023.

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