Streaming TV again took center stage at this year’s upfronts. In fact, a survey from The Trade Desk showed 59% of marketers’ upfront buys will lean on streaming TV. The same trend extends beyond upfronts to brands’ scatter buys.
The upfronts may garner the buzz and will certainly continue to play a big part in streaming TV, but scatter buys are just as important in assessing media budgets. As agencies work with brands to make the most of their scatter ad budgets this year, they’re turning to an undervalued opportunity: free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) services.
Viewers are flocking to FAST services
What exactly are FAST services? FAST is 100% ad-supported and offers viewers free streaming content in a more conventional live linear model, complete with ad breaks. Think of apps built into TV operating systems, like Samsung TV Plus and LG Channels, or standalone services like Pluto TV and Plex.
Many of these services have now expanded their offerings and added on-demand content. The ad-supported streaming model has proven so successful that Pluto TV’s co-founder launched Telly, a startup that is giving away smart TVs for free in exchange for showing targeted ads on the TV’s second screen.
FAST viewership is growing—fast. In the US, more than half of TV viewers watched FAST services in 2022. Why? For one, there’s no barrier to entry. Viewers can access a tremendous volume of quality content for free, without even entering their credit card information. With a growing number of streaming subscriptions—and their steadily rising costs—consumers are padding their streaming subscription stacks with these free options.
Second, FAST services offer a solution to one of the biggest challenges in streaming: content discovery. With a familiar lean-back experience, viewers can just tune in and start watching, without any decision fatigue.
The FAST advertising opportunity
With a well-established (and still growing) viewership, marketers are taking note of the opportunity in FAST. A report from TVREV expects ad spend on FAST services will reach nearly $34 billion by 2025, surpassing that of cable, broadcast, or subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services.
In many ways, today’s FAST services are similar to the early days of cable. There’s a breadth of programming ranging from live news, genre-based channels, single-series channels, and even sports—meaning there’s something for everyone. And with more than 1,400 channels available today, there’s a massive pool of ad inventory to suit any brand’s needs.
Just as cable once attracted linear TV buyers’ scatter budgets, the same is happening in FAST. FAST services are a great way for buyers to gain additional campaign reach as brands can reach virtually any audience segment at a massive scale.
FAST and programmatic are a winning combination
Unlike cable, FAST services offer all of the benefits of digital and programmatic, including dynamic and granular targeting, measurement, and optimization. Executing scatter buys programmatically helps make the most of campaign budgets, as media buyers can balance top-of-market upfront buys with more cost-effective scatter buys across FAST.
Buyers can reach audiences in a highly targeted way across premium supply—all while maintaining scale. They can also seamlessly and quickly adjust campaigns and re-allocate budgets to respond to seasonality or new and unexpected trending shows.
However, the sheer expanse of the FAST market can be overwhelming. Curated inventory packages introduce more efficiency to programmatic and make it easier for buyers to access quality, relevant inventory at scale. With fully vetted premium and direct supply, marketers can trust their ads will appear in brand-safe environments.
Buyers can curate inventory by a number of factors, including content signals like genre, show, content rating, device, and more, offering a customizable way to simplify the buying workflow. Content signal transparency will improve as the streaming TV industry matures, which will enable even more interesting and granular targeting options for buyers.
It’s time for media buyers to adapt to evolving viewership trends and follow the audience to FAST. What’s largely an untapped opportunity today will quickly become a mainstay in media plans as agencies and brands look to reach their desired audiences at scale and in premium environments.
Want to learn more about streaming TV? Tune in to our new Index Explains video series, where we’re breaking down the complexities of streaming TV advertising to help you unlock its full potential.Back to blog