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How Are the WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strikes Affecting FAST?

Has peak TV truly peaked? And with the M&E industry thrust largely into limbo by the first simultaneous writers' and actors' strikes in 60 years, how are FAST channel providers and aggregators responding, and how is it impacting their business? Chris Pfaff, CEO, Chris Pfaff Tech Media, Producers Guild of America (PGA), VR AR Association (VRARA), discusses this with Jeff Clanagan, President & Chief Distribution Officer, Hartbeat, Marisa Elizondo, VP, Content Strategy & Acquisition, Fubo, and Christina Chung, VP Business Operations, Estrella Media, in this clip from Streaming Media Connect 2023.

“We're in a little bit of a darkness here with the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes,” Pfaff says. “Peak TV really has peaked. Last year there were a record 599 new shows that aired. But the question I have is whether this is the moment for FAST to reinvent itself. Are viewers more likely to return to passion brands or social influencers?” He says to Clanagan, “I know you're doing a lot with YouTube these days. Are you seeing more people moving in that direction from your side?”

“We're seeing more growth in viewership minutes,” Clanagan says. “I think the caveat, though, is we're seeing that growth on [platforms such as] Tubi, Pluto, Samsung, Roku, that's where we're seeing the growth in viewership and numbers. We just launched a FAST channel on our YouTube page, which is doing extremely well. We've only been up about four months now. We already had a YouTube page that had five million subscribers on it. We launched our FAST stream on our YouTube page versus a separate FAST stream in another environment. So we are able to tap into that audience that we've already curated.”

Pfaff asks Elizondo, “What are you seeing during this period? Fubo does have some really interesting FAST titles. Can you give us a lens into what you're doing there?”

Elizondo says that Fubo has been adapting well during the strike shutdowns. “As many of you know, Fubo is a live-streaming platform,” she says. “We're sports-focused. We've leaned very heavily over the past year into the FAST space, thinking there probably is a happy medium between the FAST world and traditional linear networks. We thought we would take a slow and steady approach to launch FAST channels, and we actually leaned in quite heavily and launched over about a hundred FAST channels. And what's unique about us is that we've mixed them in between all of the packaging. So if you pull up our channel lineup, you see that all of the FAST channels are kind of mixed in. And it's been great. We have, despite the strikes, a ton of inbound requests of new networks that are trying to get launched, trying to get eyeballs. So I'm rather busy taking in all of those, but I don't think the strikes have determined any independent networks or new networks from trying to get additional distribution.”

Pfaff then asks Chung about the present situation for Estrella Media. “You've got some really strong viewership for some of your shows,” he says. “What's the state of FAST in the last two quarters during this weird period?”

Chung says that FAST has grown significantly for Estrella Media, which she notes started from a traditional broadcast cable background. “We've grown our distribution into digital-only in the last three years, and that's when I joined,” she says. “And our business has really grown from a FAST distribution at $0 to a multimillion-dollar business, which is a huge success for Estrella. We work with a number of different partners, such as Fubo, as an example, where we have our four channels, EstrellaTV, 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. Estrella has put all of our marketing dollars into FAST as well, [and] we have our own app and estrellatv.com. But FAST is our bread and butter at this point. We've been growing this business since the beginning of FAST, and it's really 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 a wide range of streaming industry topics at the next Streaming Media Connect in November 2023.

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