What's Old Is New: Looking to the Past to Take Advantage of a FAST Future
Baggy jeans are on-trend. Fanny packs are in. And linear TV is on the rise. No, you’re not re-living 1993. And while I’m no expert in the first two trends, the rise of FAST channels indicates that the future of entertainment will feel more familiar than we ever thought.
The Cable and SVOD Tipping Point
Cord cutting is by no means a new phenomenon, so the fact that “big cable” lost 1.5 million subscribers from Q1 2021 to Q1 2022 — a number that rose 31% year-over-year — should come as no surprise. But what is surprising is how quickly SVOD services shifted from being the darling of entertainment to facing a major growth crisis in their own right.
In the last quarter of 2021 alone, 4.5 million consumers canceled a streaming subscription, indicating that we’ve reached a saturation point. But while audiences are choosing which SVOD services to keep or cancel, a new leader in streaming has emerged, and it sure does feel familiar.
The Antidote to Rising Streaming Bills
Services such as Pluto TV, Tubi, Plex, Samsung TV+, and Roku Channel are offering consumers unlimited free streaming, either through ad-supported video on demand (AVOD) or via free ad-supported TV channels (FAST channels).
If you’re not familiar with these, take yourself back to scrolling through channel guides in the ‘90s or ‘00s. Now, add hundreds of new channels that are genre- and title-specific (the American Gladiators channel is a personal favorite) and you’ve got FAST channels. It’s old school TV, but with more choice, more niches, and more audience control.
The era of ad-supported TV is back, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. While consumers are cutting their cable and SVOD services, the total number of FAST channels grew 99% in 2021, and revenue is expected to grow 50% in the next three years.
As we prepare for a FAST future, there are some branding and marketing learnings that can be gleaned from this old-yet-new entertainment model.
FAST Channels: What’s Old?
Functional Channel Naming
While modern channel branding and naming has become increasingly abstract — networks like Magnolia, Freeform, and Comet tell you very little about the type of content available — there’s an opportunity to look to trends from the ’90s and early ‘00s to stand apart in the rapidly expanding FAST landscape.
Before TLC was the home of the 90 Day Fiancé universe, it was The Learning Channel, which clearly, succinctly articulated its core promise. AMC stood for American Movie Classics. A&E was Arts & Entertainment. These names prioritized clarity over creativity, and in a FAST landscape with literally hundreds of channels to scroll through — there are now over 260 FAST movie channels alone— establishing a specialty, focus, or niche is of utmost importance.
Confusing Channel Lineups
Each cable provider assigns different numbers to channels. For audiences, that’s fine—they’re only subscribed to one cable service—but for brands, that can lead to marketing complexities. For example, when FXX promotes the latest season of Atlanta, they can’t clarify how or where to watch on-air, as FXX is a different channel number on DirecTV, Spectrum, and Dish.
This same hurdle exists in the FAST landscape, as Pluto TV, Plex, and Tubi each offer unique channel lineups. However, if a channel creates marketing content to run on a specific service (that is, if it advertises specifically on, say, Pluto TV) there’s an opportunity to clearly state how and where to find a channel or title. More on this later.
Old School Promos
The SVOD landscape has changed entertainment marketing. We’ve all seen “Here’s What’s Coming in October” promos from streaming services like Netflix or Disney+, because generating excitement for titles coming up next week, next month, or next year can lead to long-term subscription loyalty. But back in the day, a crucially important promotional asset was the in-program “Now/Next/Later” graphic and short :10 “Up Next” promos.
Similarly, it’s important for FAST channels to maintain the audiences they have on-channel by informing them of immediately upcoming titles. Promos that tease content in the distant future aren’t as valuable in generating and maintaining audiences in the FAST space as assets that keep people streaming in the moment. As such, FAST channels can—and should—prioritize building compelling in-program and “Up Next” promotional messaging.
FAST Channels: What’s New?
Becoming a “Favorite”
It used to be nearly impossible for channels to stand apart in a program guide. But today, some services like Tubi and Samsung TV+ offer users the ability to “Favorite” FAST channels. This ability to create a custom lineup makes navigating the landscape easier for audiences, and gives brands a clear goal to strive for.
In marketing and communication, there’s an opportunity for FAST channels to not just drive tune-in, but to encourage audiences to “Favorite” the channel, and in turn, go from one of hundreds of channels to choose from, to one of five or six. Doing so helps brands stay top-of-mind for consumers, stand apart from competition, and build deeper relationships.
Building for the Small Screen
59% of U.S. consumers reported that they use non-TV devices for daily video usage (i.e. phones, tablets, and computers). This is a big shift from the days of yore, where set-top viewing dominated, and as such, there was more real estate for messaging and graphics.
Audiences today may scroll through a 200+ channel lineup on a 5-inch phone screen, and brands have a 20x20 pixel space for their logo to command attention. As such, it’s important for FAST channel visual identities to be simplified; intricate notches or detailed patterns in a logo or on a graphics package will get lost. Bold, simple, and clean design is the pathway for brands to stand apart.
The Many Layers of Marketing
FAST channels can promote upcoming content on their own channel. They can advertise within the service — for instance, they can pay to run a spot on the Tubi homepage, or have the channel listed at the top of the Pluto TV guide. And they can develop social and digital campaigns outside of the streaming ecosystem.
This brings up a conundrum for FAST channels: Do they commit top-of-funnel marketing dollars to target the biggest audience, but run the risk of losing consumers as they attempt to navigate the complexities of finding their channel? Or do they commit lower funnel, on-platform marketing dollars where they have a much smaller audience, but can easily direct people to their channel?
While there’s no hard-and-fast rule, I recommend a 75/25 split between on-platform and off-platform marketing. Doing so ensures you’re prioritizing converting a captive audience, while still reaching audiences who may not be active in—or aware of—the FAST space.
The Future is FAST Approaching
Streaming services (Tubi, Pluto TV), established media companies (FOX, Paramount), and upstarts (FilmRise, Cinedigm) are all vying for a piece of the FAST pie. It’s the wild west right now, with more and more players entering the space and no clear-cut winners yet. But as some channels start to win the hearts and minds of audiences, others will fall by the wayside.
Now is the time to plant a flag in the FAST landscape and set foundations for long-term success—and the best way to do that may just be to look to the past for inspiration. Just don’t bring back the upside-down visor.
[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Trollback+Company. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]
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