How to maximize your content and grow your audience on FAST

By Amagi - February 19, 2024

Today, Free Ad-supported Streaming TV (FAST) continues to see accelerated growth globally because of its wide variety of free content and its lean-back experience.

About 19 FAST services in the U.S. alone offer close to 2,000 FAST channels. With diverse channels catering to genres from news to sports to entertainment, how can services continue to create and deliver niche and original programming? 

At Amagi’s LA FAST Conference last fall, industry experts Paige Sherman (Shout! Factory) and Madhu Somasundaram (Vizio) shared their insights on how to maximize your content and grow your audience. 

Here’s what they had to say:


Kickstart the content evaluation process

When content owners approach services for channel creation, services usually evaluate the content for several criteria before acquiring it. They start by answering questions like:

  • Is the content familiar and is there an existing fan base?
  • Is there partner interest in the content?
  • How many hours of content do you have? If the library is vast, is it enough to be a standalone binge-able channel? If not, could it be an addition to an existing channel in the same genre? 
  • What is the refresh rate? What is the content rated? Is it unrated and uncensored?

These questions help the content acquisition team decide if a particular piece of content is a valuable addition to the service's portfolio and if it resonates with its audience.

WATCH: Webinar with Gavin Bridge: Breaking down FAST’s growth and CTV ad opportunities

Evaluate the content for curation

Once the content is ready to be delivered through a service, the team further assesses its technical aspects by evaluating the video quality of the content (SD, HD, ultra high definition (UHD), or 4K). Since video quality plays an essential role in how viewers experience streaming and perceive your platform at large, delivering the highest quality is crucial. If the quality of native content is not good enough, platforms usually appraise it to ensure it meets viewers' expectations. 

Similarly, for viewers watching content with closed captions, caption files that are accurately timed enhance the overall viewing experience. With about 63% of Gen Z and millennials watching TV in their native languages with closed captions, subtitles must consistently appear at the right times in the right places. 

The positioning of ad breaks is also evaluated to ensure they are seamless. For example, content with a natural fade-to-black presents a prime opportunity to insert an ad break since the viewer assumes the scene has ended.

READ MORE: A content owner’s guide to FAST

Add creativity to your programming


After passing operational checks for content quality and viability, it's time to organize the content so viewers stay engaged and 'stick' to the channel. First, decide if the content should run chronologically or if it's better suited by randomization. Next, make sure you're giving your viewers maximum context regarding what they're watching. Examples include logo branding, lower third overlays that display the show's name, and bumpers that indicate an upcoming ad break.

Next, check the content metadata to assemble meaningful programming blocks. Metadata usually includes information such as title, series, genre, length, language and network. A creative Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) that helps viewers know what they are watching also goes a long way in creating a positive viewing experience. Personalized EPG takes it one step further by personalizing shows, channels, channel lineups, and program blocks based on viewers' preferences. 

Putting together exclusive pieces of content also adds differentiation and helps garner viewers' and partners' interest. For example, Shout! Factory hosts all 11 seasons of the Emmy Award-winning series The Carol Burnett Show on its own channel on Pluto TV. Many episodes included in the linear streaming release have rarely been seen since the show's original broadcast more than 40 years ago. Shout! Factory went one step further by inviting Carol Burnett to talk on camera as a part of Women's History Month, generating meaningful and impactful programming blocks for viewers and partners. 

Cross-promoting popular shows from other channels, like The Johnny Carson Show on The Carol Burnett channel, can also help deliver more value through efficient FAST programming.  


Let the data guide you 

As a service, one of your most valuable assets is access to viewership data. Leveraging this data helps decide if the content resonates with the viewers and can let you know which part of the day receives the most viewership. Data also gives insights into the demographics of the audience who regularly visit your platform. Somasundaram said that in the case of a few services like Vizio, who have been in the Pay TV business for a long time, the experience and learning come in handy while putting together FAST programming. 

For example, Vizio launched a pop-up channel for Hispanic Heritage Month in September,

"Through our extensive network of content partners and data-driven approach to programming, this curated collection provides the best in premium entertainment, honoring the rich stories, experiences, and creativity of Hispanic and Latin voices," Vizio VP Katherine Pond said to Business Wire.

CASE STUDY: Reaching international audiences with FAST

Put A/B testing to work

After launching your channel, how do you test if all the hypotheses you've applied work? A/B testing! Access to proprietary data helps zoom in on the smaller details. For example, Vizio's heat mapping toolset helped them realize that movies didn't resonate well with audiences in the mornings on their channel called 'Action.' Pivoting their programming by adding programs like Hunter Highlander created an uptick in audience numbers during mornings.

Somasundaram quoted another example where Vizio's Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) data (technology that helps gather viewership data) revealed that Godzilla resonated with their audience. So they tried marathons of 24-hour loops to enhance viewership. When that didn't work as expected, they tweaked the programming by only playing the content during the late morning and early afternoon. It became an instant hit.  

This approach, what Somsundaram calls 'peeling the onion,' also helps launch channels that are underserved in the market and can derive more predictable outputs.

"The fun part of my job is what I call 'peeling the onion' … war movies work well, but what type? Are those specifically World War II movies? Was Nicolas Cage in it? This is where you get to look at post-mortem data and dive into what worked and why it didn't work – delivering a more predictive output." – Madhu Somasundaram, Direction Programming and Operations, Vizio

While having access to premium, high-quality content is important, packaging it to make it consumable is key. Combining the art and science behind programming to ensure the right content reaches the right audience depends on how well your team, data, and technology collaborate and work in tandem.

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