FAST's focus fixates on live TV and sports

Platform and content players in the free, ad-supported streaming television (FAST) market plan to boost viewing and amplify engagement by leaning more heavily into live content and sports programming.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

June 28, 2024

4 Min Read
 Xumo Play ACL Cornhole TV screencap taken 6/27/2024
Xumo this week added 25 new FAST channels, including ACL Cornhole TV. (Source: Xumo screencap taken June 27, 2024)

Improved content discovery has emerged as a major challenge in the evolution of the free, ad-supported streaming television (FAST) segment of the video services market.

Meanwhile, platform and content players in the FAST arena are also looking to broaden and amplify their strategies centered on live feeds and sports programming – the type of content that still resonates in the realm of traditional, linear-style television. That focus, execs contend, will help FAST services boost viewer engagement and give consumers more reasons to return to FAST channels at a higher rate.

How content and platform players are pursuing those strategies more aggressively was a prominent topic at this week's Stream TV Show in Denver.

Roku, for example, prominently promotes sports and live content on its home page. Within that, it also operates a "Sports Zone" area that aggregates fragmented sports fare provided by a wide range of content partners, Alex Hill, senior director of product for The Roku Channel, live TV and sports, at Roku, said.

"Our content team, broadly, is very interested in sports," he added.

Xumo, the Comcast-Charter joint venture, also operates a sizable sports category that likewise aggregates such content. Audiences "are hungry for sports and FAST. It's free; it's accessible," Stefan Van Engen, VP of content acquisition at Xumo, said. "The goal is always engagement."

Sports still a 'curiosity genre' on FAST

But Van Engen acknowledged that sports fare on FAST services have generally served as a "curiosity genre" for viewers who tend to drop in just to check out what's on in that portion of the channel lineup.

He said Xumo and other market players could improve viewer interest in sports content on FAST by giving them better tools to know which sports content is available, when it's available and where it's available.

Sports content on FAST "is not as engaged as it we want it to be. It's changing as these [sports] rights come up as different networks and partners bring sports to FAST," Van Engen explained. "So, the biggest trick is discovery."

Xumo, he said, is adding a wide range of "levers" to help it and its partners make content – specially for sports content and live content – more easily discoverable than just locating it as they scroll through the guide.

"It can't just grow from a user clicking a sports category and thinking they're going to find something," Van Engen said.

Samsung, which runs a FAST service called Samsung TV Plus, has also increased its focus on sports. That includes live streams of the Ontario Reign, an affiliate of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, as well as a MLB channel with game replay, recaps and some exclusive content, and channels dedicated to the PGA Tour, Formula 1 and MMA's ONEChampionship series.

That focus, reasoned Dustin Mouradian – the sports content acquisition lead at Samsung TV Plus – will help the service stand out in a crowded FAST market.

Such strategies are also a priority for companies that distribute their content on various FAST platforms.

"I understand what live sports means to this business," said Shawne Merriman, a former NFL All-Pro linebacker who now runs Lights Out, a service focused on live mixed martial arts events that serve as a feeder league of sorts to the UFC.

Minor leagues are 'very overlooked'

Boosting live events on Lights Out is key to getting viewers to show up and stay, he said.

Merriman also sees an opportunity for FAST to serve as a home for leagues and sports that fall outside of the likes of the MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL.

"The minor leagues are very, very overlooked," he said, hinting that Lights Out is in talks to secure rights for other types of sports leagues. "They are looking for a streaming partner or platform to get out there … We want to go after these up-and-coming, emerging leagues and give them a place to be seen. As long as it's live content, people stop and watch."

Panelists said FAST distribution should (and will) resonate further with major sporting leagues as well.

Delivering a live feed of the Super Bowl on FAST channels "is not out of the question," Samsung's Mouradian suggested. "If you want everyone in this country to watch that game, why not make it available on FAST?"

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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