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Cable Tech

FAST Studios banks on the rise of free streaming

The market for free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) services has been booming amid the ongoing decline of traditional pay-TV, paired with a rebundling of sorts fueled by an array of new, premium subscription streaming services.

Key parts of that FAST boom link back to a string of M&A moves, with Viacom (now ViacomCBS) snapping up Pluto TV in 2019, Fox acquiring Tubi and Comcast grabbing Xumo last year. Meanwhile, Roku's ad-focused The Roku Channel service is now a major growth driver for the streaming giant, and the business underpinning Peacock, NBCU's new streaming service, is largely based on ad dollars rather than subscriptions. And TiVo has merged into the FAST lane with dozens of streaming channels for TiVo+.

With that backdrop, it's perhaps no surprise to see a startup enter the mix with an absolute focus on the FAST market, down to the name of the company itself: FAST Studios.

"We very much believe that cable TV is being reinvented right now with the OTT AVoD (advertising video-on-demand) platforms," Stuart McLean, FAST Studios' CEO and co-founder, said. "The first-generation [of FAST services] proved out the market. A lot of [streaming] channels have been doing playlists of their libraries and consumers were enjoying that."

Launched earlier this year, FAST Studios's plan is to invest in and develop new, free, ad-supported streaming channels that fill in or expand on specific content genres, and to enhance streaming channels already out in the market.

And rather than creating streaming channels that merely deliver a linear, live-like playlist of content, FAST Studio will also focus on building out services that have the professional look and feel of what consumers are used to seeing on TV.

"The skillset here is about how do you make those channels as close as possible to a cable TV experience – it's everything from channel identity, graphics packages, promotions and marketing support that goes in to make sure our channels can compete with the major media channels," said McLean, who also co-founded a streaming workflow platform called MUXIP that will power the FAST Studios' digital channels. "We think there's some real value there to not only create our own channels but to take new channels to the next level."

But FAST Studios is not about to go out and build a streaming services platform that would compete with "anchor players" such as Pluto TV or Xumo. Instead, it will look to launch its own channels and its partner's channels on those platforms.

"Our job is to help them fill their [content] gaps," McLean said.

He expects FAST Studios to initially focus on building out programming blocks with library programming and then expand into originals and other formats as the company grows.

FAST Studios is keeping some of its specific plans under wraps, declining to announce its initial development slate, how much has been raised so far, and when the company expects its first channels to hit the streaming market.

"But our point of differentiation is our ability to make investments" in free, ad-based streaming channels, McLean said. "We're trying to build channels that will be able to compete two to three years out. Our goal is to have fewer bigger channels, than a scattershot of channels."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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