How Big Is the Upside On Ad-Supported Streaming? Banff Panel Debates

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As consumers battle rising subscription costs for online video-on-demand services, free, ad-supported streaming platforms, or so-called FAST channels, are embracing their own time in the sun, the Banff World Media Festival heard on Monday.

“We live in a very big saturated marketplace and there is a lot of demand inside the on-demand environment for audiences,” Beth Anderson, general manager of FAST Channels at BBC Studios Americas, told a morning panel on ad-supported platforms. Anderson said no need for logging in or payment models made FAST channels an appealing alternative to audiences looking for new content online, especially if they’re cord-cutters or cord nevers.

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FAST channels see themselves as lean-back TV services, offered for free, in contrast to subscription platforms like Netflix and Prime Video that are known for edgy scripted and unscripted TV fare. “We now have four FAST channels live in the U.S., three channels in Canada and more are coming,” said Jamie Schouela, president of global channels and media at Blue Ant Media, which has just seen LG Channels pick up its suite of FAST channels in the U.S. and Canada.

That includes Blue Ant’s FAST channels like Total Crime, the home renovation channel Homeful and the nature channel Love Nature. A major player in the ad-supported streaming space is The Roku Channel as it follows changing consumer viewing habits with its own lean back linear TV offering online.

“The decline you’re seeing in live (TV) is more due to economics, versus consumer behavior… As long as you have the value proposition in the title of your channel, users know what they’re going to watch,” Jennifer Vaux, senior director of content acquisition at The Roku Channel, told the Banff panel.

In the U.S. space, as Netflix looks to get into the ad-supported streaming tier, other players in the ad-supported video-on-demand domestic market include Disney, expected to introduce an ad-supported tier of Disney+. Meanwhile, Paramount will pitch Paramount+ and NBCUniversal continues to grow Peacock.

Filmrise, as an independently owned portfolio of ad-supported streaming apps and FAST channels, is also looking to bring linear TV services to the online space. “On the curated channel side, we’re trying to simply replicate those linear streams within the vast universe,” Tejas Shah, senior vp of commercial strategy and analytics at Filmrise, said in Banff.

Blue Ant Media’s Schouela said the FAST channel space will continue to grow internationally beyond a U.S. market that is well ahead of the world, especially continental Europe.

“We look for the white space in the market. Canada is less cluttered, The U.K is less cluttered. This will continue to grow worldwide,” Schouela assured the festival attendees.

The Banff World Media Festival continues through Wednesday.

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