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FAST (Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV)

What is free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST)?

Free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) is a video content distribution model that offers users the experience of flipping through linear channels combined with the flexibility and convenience of streaming TV services. As the name suggests, the service generates revenue via ads to keep viewership free.

Free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) is a unique, hybrid model that bridges the gap between linear channels and video on demand (VOD) services as it offers both on-demand content and pre-programmed content typically exclusive to linear channels. Whereas linear scheduled programming is broadcasted via antenna, cable, or satellite, however, FAST channels are accessible from any device equipped with an internet connection, including smart TVs or connected TVs.

The result: A viewing experience that mimics traditional cable TV, but is made even better by today’s streaming technology. Think of watching your favorite sporting events, live news or pre-recorded TV shows and movies from wherever you want — with nothing more than an internet connection and a compatible device (such as a smart TV, smart phone, or tablet) required.

It’s an increasingly popular solution to subscription fatigue, or the exasperation many viewers feel as their expenses from multiple OTT (over-the-top) platforms pile up. Rather than sign up for another subscription, FAST services offer the content viewers want without the financial commitment.

Popular FAST platforms and streaming services include Pluto TV, Sling TV, Xumo, the Roku Channel and Peacock Channels. These channels not only offer today’s latest content, but also older, licensed content that is hard to find on SVOD or AVOD platforms. Pluto TV, for instance, includes a themed channel entitled “Totally Turtles,” which streams episodes of the hit ‘90s show Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

What is a FAST channel?

A FAST channel, or Free Ad-supported Streaming TV channel, is a type of CTV inventory that delivers on-demand and linear content without a subscription fee. Originally ad-supported, these channels now blend linear and on-demand programming, blurring the lines with subscription-based services. For instance, Pluto, Tubi, and Xumo are FAST platforms that host a variety of individual FAST channels. Distinguishing between the overarching FAST platform (like Pluto) and specific FAST channels (like Hallmark or Popcorn Flix) is essential for navigating the dynamic CTV landscape. This distinction helps advertisers strategically target their audience within this evolving ecosystem.

What makes FAST different from AVOD?

At first glance, it can be difficult to distinguish free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) from advertising-supported video on demand (AVOD). In both models, viewers access free, on-demand content by watching ads.

FAST is unique in that it includes linear, scheduled programming — unlike AVOD services. This is a big plus for many viewers, who still enjoy the “always on” experience of cable television. The other big difference between the two is pricing: FAST services are always free, using advertisements as its primary source of revenue. AVOD, on the other hand, can include other monetization methods. Netflix, for instance, now offers an ad-supported subscription plan at a lower rate than their established subscription video on demand (SVOD) plan, but the AVOD plan isn’t free. The same applies to AVOD plans or tiers offered by popular streaming TV services such as Disney+ and HBO Max.

The unique opportunity of FAST for advertisers

Free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) — as well as video on demand (VOD) — offers a unique opportunity for advertisers to create advanced TV targeting strategies that reach audiences who are highly engaged with the video content they consume. FAST and VOD viewers are a golden opportunity for advertisers to reach selective, engaged and intentional viewers who are most likely to engage in relevant advertising content when it hits them because of the self-selecting bias.

Through our TV+® platform, Simulmedia has direct integrations with over 250 networks and publishers in the linear and connected TV (CTV) landscape, including every major streaming service, so advertisers can plan, buy, activate and measure across FAST and VOD programming. Our proprietary technology takes into consideration the hundreds of combinations of target audiences, programs, and platforms on which a given ad can run, and creates the most predictably successful campaign strategy based on your baseline metrics and campaign goals.

Alongside targeting FAST advertising, TV+ allows advertisers to place ads across networks, platforms and programs with different audiences and goals, to create a holistic, 360-degree approach to achieving a successful campaign. And your ad strategy can pivot as the results roll in, adopting a test-and-learn approach to optimization. Most importantly, our unique access to both linear and streaming TV inventory allows advertisers to understand where their audiences intersect and how best to reach them with guaranteed scale and speed that no one else can deliver.