FAST streaming channels are growing—what are they and why should advertisers care?

A study from Comcast Advertising finds FAST viewership has doubled since last year.

FAST streaming channels are growing—what are they and why should advertisers care?

The term “streaming wars” wasn’t coined for nothing—the rush for eyes on streaming TV has spawned fierce competition from now-countless platforms. And with each U.S. household tuning in to an average of nearly five different streamers, per Kantar, with prices ranging as high as Netflix’s most-premium $20-per-month tier, TV bills are stacking up exponentially.

Enter FAST—free ad-supported streaming TV—which offers consumers a wide range of programming options without the financial burden. Here’s what advertisers need to know:

FAST is growing ... fast

A survey from Comcast Advertising, the results of which were released today in a report titled “Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV: Why More Advertisers (and Consumers) Are Going FAST,” found that free ad-supported streaming TV, or FAST, has doubled in household penetration within the past year. Six in 10 houses with a smart TV are now using FAST services, making it a fast grower in streaming advertising—a market that in total is expected to reach $30 billion in ad spend by 2024, according to eMarketer.


As news of Netflix and Disney+’s ad-tier launches generates interest among marketers, it should be noted that ad-supported video on demand (AVOD) is different from FAST, which typically resembles the linear TV experience. Rather than supplying on-demand content, FAST platforms—such as Tubi, Pluto TV, Amazon’s Freevee or ones built into smart TVs like Vizio’s WatchFree+ and the Roku Channel—offer pre-programmed content that streams continuously without the necessity of picking what show to watch. Rather than tuning in to a traditional network channel like on cable, one might select a FAST channel themed for, say, true crime, holiday or sports programming.

FAST can lower the barrier to entry for advertisers

FAST also gives advertisers a smaller barrier to entry in reaching their ideal viewer than space on AVOD. “FAST channels currently don’t include content from upfront heavyweights like Disney or NBCU—which means buyers who are looking to add CTV advertising to their media mix can do so without paying the network premium CPMs,” said Jacqueline Corbelli, founder, CEO and chairman of BrightLine, a streaming ad tech platform. “And because these buys are largely done programmatically, it’s also easier to buy this way.”

While premium supply is both in high demand and limited, FAST provides an opportunity for advertisers to spread their ad dollars across connected TV spends, particularly in the scatter market where buys are made within shorter time periods rather than many months out, like in upfront buys. Corbelli added that “it’s both a cheaper and easier way to reach audiences in the coveted CTV space.”

Inflation is helping to drive FAST adoption

One media agency source told Ad Age that another reason FAST has seen such marked growth recently has to do with the state of the economy. “With consumer confidence being impacted by inflation that we haven’t seen in 40 years,” said the buyer, “[they] are making decisions out of fear, which include things that are nice-to-haves, not must-haves,”—e.g., cutting a premium streaming subscription.

“We know the losses are starting,” said Corbelli of premium subscription numbers, “and part of it is because the monthly cost of apps is starting to pinch viewers’ pocketbooks. FAST channel content is free, giving consumers another reason to bail on other apps.”

In other words, free is FAST’s best selling point—especially in a challenging economy.

FAST means simplicity

As the streaming world is oversaturated with choice, the reversion back to a simpler click-and-watch option holds high appeal for consumers, and without the cost of a cable subscription. The Comcast survey found that 70% of users on its own FAST platform, Xumo, are linear cord-cutters who use it as a complement to premium subscription services like HBO Max or Hulu. Traditionally, FAST programming has shorter ad breaks than linear TV and a Happydemics survey found that 75% of TV watchers don’t mind ads paired with free content. 

FAST is one tool in a multi-screen arsenal

“As advertisers look to efficiently maximize their reach in an increasingly fragmented viewing landscape,” said James Rooke, president at Comcast Advertising, in a statement, “FAST services are a valuable complement to traditional TV and other AVOD streaming options as part of a holistic multi-screen media plan.” Although an unsurprising POV from a media conglomerate with its own FAST product (Xumo), FAST as an industry phenomenon is continuing to gain traction with both viewers and advertisers.