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Why FAST Took Off in 2020

Why did Free Ad-Supported Streaming Television (FAST) take off in such a significant way in 2020? Matthew Durgin, Sr. Director, North American Innovation and Development Team, LG, discusses this topic with Scott Hancock, VP, Marketing, Plex, and media cartographer Evan Shapiro, CEO, ESHAP, in this clip from their Streaming Media East 2023 panel.

Durgin begins by mentioning that FAST is a “top five” service for LG and that it fits well into their lineup. However, he notes that it took quite a while for FAST to really catch on. “We tried FAST for years with companies like DivX and NETTV, and there were so many companies that looked at FAST before, and then all of a sudden one day it just worked,” he says. He asks Shapiro, “Any idea why that explosion happened? What was the right timing that came into place?”

“There's never one answer to that question when a paradigm shifts that quickly,” Shapiro says. “A big part of it was lockdown. Americans and people around the world bought substantially more connected televisions during the [height of] Covid than they were planning to earlier [in] the cycle, [and there] were more rooms that they were putting them in. And so the move away from the dongle and towards the pure, connected television, the speed of the chips inside the TVs, the amount of programming, and the amount of available time that people had over those couple of years, I think, was one of the great accelerants. You also have the largest, most diverse generation in the history of the world, Generation Z, coming of age during this same period of time.”

Shapiro also emphasizes that one of the major shifts over the last five to six years has been the move of the primary screen in homes from small screen devices to connected televisions. “The biggest, best approximate screen is now the winner inside the home,” he says. The pandemic and the increase of subscriptions to paid products in conjunction with Gen Z and this shift to larger screens have all contributed to the swift rise of FAST.

Durgin turns to Scott Hancock of Plex for his insights into the rise of FAST. “Plex had so many different ways of satisfying consumers over the last 15-plus years,” he says. “Plex has been on LG’s roadmap of offerings for a long time in different ways. So how did FAST change what Plex wants to do to satisfy customers?”

Hancock agrees that the pandemic was a major factor. “I think we definitely saw a huge spike during that time period [that] allowed folks to experiment with what they've been thinking about and hearing about…cord cutting, or cord shaving. This gave them the opportunity. They were stuck at home, and they're like, ‘I'm gonna give this thing a try.’ And they realized, ‘Okay, actually, I can pull this off.’ And that's when we saw a significant lift in usage.” He also highlights the mass consumer realization that so much previously inaccessible content was now easily accessible. He notes that Plex has around 600 channels available in the US and most other countries. “It's been an arms race basically in who can say they have the most channels,” he notes. “And so I think a lot of it was like driven by folks stuck at home. The content quality has gotten so much better, and the user experience, the ability to basically find what it is that you're looking for, is getting better. I would say It's got a long way to go, but it's gotten better.”

Learn more about FAST and a wide range of streaming industry topics at Streaming Media Connect 2023.

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