ITV Studios’ Graham Haigh, Cineflix Rights’ Mike Gould, Banijay Rights’ Shaun Keeble and All3Media International’s Gary Woolf talked about how their companies are pursuing opportunities in FAST as the FAST Festival kicked off today.
Keeble serves as VP of digital at Banijay Rights. Woolf is executive VP of strategic development at All3Media International. Haigh is executive VP of global business development and digital at ITV Studios. Gould is senior VP of digital at Cineflix Rights. In conversation with World Screen’s Anna Carugati, which you can view here, they shared their perspectives on how distributors of scale can tap into the FAST business, including rolling out successful single-IP brands.
Banijay Rights has been in the FAST space since 2019, Keeble said. That business has grown to 22 FAST channels, syndicated into 123 streams. “We’re looking at launching channels, either dedicated single IP or genre-specific,” Keeble said, noting that FAST delivers incremental revenue streams. “Typically, our approach is to look at our back catalog. The catalog now is spanning 172,000 hours of content. We’re certainly looking at all of those IPs that may have already had market awareness or a presence in a first- or second-window run and then looking at a third- or fourth-window run in the FAST space for commercial benefit but also to help drive new viewership and a chance to collect data.”
From Gould’s perspective, “a distributor of any scale needs to be in this space to some extent. There’s been so much growth, and it’s a significant revenue opportunity.” Cineflix Rights, which boasts a catalog of some 5,500 hours, has only been in FAST for less than a year. “We were looking at our library, seeing some of these big unscripted brands we had made global, such as Mayday and Property Brothers, and other genres we’ve specialized in over the years, such as true crime and property and renovation. We thought, we’re sitting on a treasure trove here.”
Haigh added that FAST is a win-win opportunity, “driving value in the long tail.” He referenced ITV Studios’ 90,000-hour catalog across factual, drama and entertainment formats. “Across those three different types of content, we’ve got lots of single brands to lean on. But we also think about how we curate them into some genre channels.” He pointed to the importance of data and noted that FAST channels can be beneficial for building brands and attracting new audiences. “And to start to play a role in owning our inventory. We are the biggest U.K. commercial broadcaster. How can we utilize that strength within this world to drive a really strong and incremental revenue stream?”
The incremental revenue stream angle is critical, Woolf said, noting that All3Media International’s involvement in FAST began in 2019 with a genre-specific channel, So…Real, in North America, tapping into its vast lifestyle and reality slate. That bouquet of FAST channels has grown to seven, with two new ones arriving later this year, across single-IP and genre-specific brands. “It’s really about adding extra windows and adding value for distributors and bringing in new opportunities while also trying to make those channels something of a fan experience.”
At Banijay Rights, about 60 percent of the FAST channels are single-IP brands, with non-scripted properties—among them Deal or No Deal, Fear Factor, Survivor and The Biggest Loser—faring particularly well. When determining if you want to go for a single-IP or genre-based brand, “it’s going to come down to content volume and recognition of the content itself,” Keeble said.
Brand recognition is paramount for single-IP channels, Woolf added. “When scrolling through that EPG that does get longer, you want brands that stand out. FAST is still a relatively casual view, so if you launch a single-IP channel that has quite a strong linear story arc—that’s quite difficult in this space. It’s a lean-back, bingeable experience that you can dip into at any point without really having to know too much background. That’s why game shows work well. Midsomer Murders works well because they’re standalone TV movies. As you get into that genre-based approach, it’s making sure your shows do pop on the EPG.”
Single-IP and genre brands are equally important at Cineflix Rights, Gould said. The company has four FAST channel brands, three of which are genre-based (disaster, crime, property and home reno), with the fourth for American Pickers. “The single-IP channel gives that immediate binge experience for the superfan. It’s reliable engagement. In defense of the genre brand, where we see the advantage of those is probably in their long-term value. Because you’re not constrained within the editorial parameters of a single-IP channel, you can draw in programming from many more areas and even look to acquire directly into it. They both complement each other in different ways.”
“Single IP is your immediate short-term fix,” Haigh noted. “There’s an immediate route to market and an immediate revenue stream. We have a suite of genre channels we’re about to take to market that we’re looking at as long-term vehicles for future distribution of some of our IP across scripted and non-scripted. At the moment, it’s really in the library space, but who knows how this market will evolve in three, four or five years. It’s an opportunity now for us to get there and build these channels so that we have an option for where to put our content in the future.”
The refresh rate on FAST channels depends on the nature of the service, Gould explained. For genre-based services, “when we schedule it, we don’t want any two consecutive days to be the same, two consecutive weeks to be the same, two consecutive eight-hour periods to be the same. Each time a viewer visits the channel, even if it’s the same format they’re expecting to see at that time of day, we want them to see a different episode of that format. We tend to work to about a 25 percent refresh rate on the channel per month. That doesn’t mean 25 net new content to that channel forever because I don’t think any of us could sustain that, but at least it means that on a month-to-month basis, the general spread of content feels different. That is different for a single-IP channel—there’s much more acceptance from the user and the platforms for those to feel more repetitive. Refresh is certainly important on the multi-brand channels.”
Keeble added that using data is crucial when making programming and scheduling decisions. “It’s almost taking the overnights and reflecting that against our programming decision-making, particularly against the genre-specific channels.”
On the data issue, Haigh noted: “We’re not receiving the data that we probably all want from platforms. It’s varied, and we have to use third parties to bring that all together, aggregate it and then make sense of it. We hope that will evolve, working with the platform partners and the industry in general, so we can start looking at audience data alongside channel and program streams.”
Haigh noted that scheduling mixed-IP channels mirrors the traditional linear channels’ approach. “The more data we get, the more sophisticated that can be. That enables more premium content to go on these platforms because you can understand how that performs and drives audience and, therefore, impressions and advertising revenue.”
Woolf agreed with Gould that a 25 percent refresh rate is a sweet spot, “but it’s really about what you do with those hours. We have our audience growth person sitting with our scheduler. So we understand the marketing calendars of the platforms that we’re on.”
As for what platforms to align with, Keeble said, “We’ve certainly looked at non-exclusive agreements across [much] of the FAST landscape, and we evaluate each platform one by one. For us, it’s understanding the size of the existing audience base, the amount of hardware available from that platform in terms of connected TVs or set-top boxes. We then, as distributors, have to have those conversations around discoverability. Where will our channel end up in terms of EPG placement? What can we do collaboratively in that area? From a user perspective, does the platform have that EPG? What does the user interface look like to then hone in on our offering? We take many decisions into the mix when we go ahead and decide. Of course, from our perspective, when we’re looking at the platforms, it’s first looking at the size and the opportunity. It’s also then reviewing the number of channels already on the platform. What is there maybe a lack of in terms of genre? What is there a desire for in terms of content? From a commercial standpoint, as distributors, we want to look at the opportunity to work together across advertising representation. It could be an inventory split or it could be backfill opportunities. We’re all taking a commercial view, but also, it’s got to be the size of the opportunity.”
Gould added, “Our best platforms are staffed to work with us to make the most of these channels. We value those platforms where we can work with them to promote the channels, learn about their editorial calendars and take advantage of that. Having that willingness on the platform side is key with whom we will devote a lot of our attention to as a partnership. Scale is everything; strong monetization behind the platforms helps, but we try not to discriminate too much with our distribution. Distribution is distribution at the end of the day, eyeballs are eyeballs, and we’re all trying to get in front of as many people as possible.”
At All3Media International, Woolf says the focus is on securing one “tier one” platform for a channel at launch, followed by two or three “tier two partners.” Launching with a tier three platform is “a quick way of losing money. So as much as people talk about how much money there is in FAST, you’ve got to be smart about how you launch, who your launch partners are and whom you can add on after you’ve got the ball rolling.”
ITV Studios has aligned with “some of the bigger known partners in this space,” Haigh explained. “And we’re agnostic as to who we work with. It’s very much, is there a solid return on investment for the costs, time and effort that’s involved to get a channel live? If it’s already live, you can start looking at it more holistically. It is market by market; the U.S. is very different from Europe or Australia, where you probably have fewer players. The bigger players are the more known global brands.”
Carugati then asked the panelists to weigh in on the opportunity in the U.S., the most mature FAST market. Haigh said he expects the U.S. to remain the largest FAST market globally but forecasts some consolidation in the channels space given the sheer volume of services available. “It comes back to us to make sure that we’ve got something unique and strong in terms of a genre or a single-IP brand. One that can add to a platform’s channel lineup, and it’s not duplicating things that they’ve already got that.”
Woolf noted that some 70 channels are freely available to U.K. viewers via digital terrestrial, which is not the case in the U.S. “That also impacts how we program channels and what you think the role of FAST is as it comes into Europe as opposed to what FAST is in the U.S. For that reason, the U.S. will be the big market for some time now.”
Gould added: “The extent of its market share will probably drop over the coming years as some other big English-speaking markets come into the frame. FAST is a very local space. In many other regions, broadcasters have such a strong hold on users’ access to content in a way that it was not quite the case in the U.S. when it was so ripe for disruption. It’s going to be interesting to see who else emerges.”
The awareness of FAST channels needs to be increased outside of the U.S., Keeble added, “to help expedite viewer awareness and the ad market’s awareness. In the U.S., media buyers and brands have certainly bought into the idea of buying campaigns against connected-TV FAST spaces. It’s up to the platforms to think about an awareness marketing campaign to drive FAST consumption further in Europe.”
Regarding opportunities outside the U.S., Keeble said Banijay Rights has rolled its FAST services out in Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. “We’ve seen good growth in Europe, particularly in the U.K. and Germany,” he added. “We recently launched in Australia. When we look at a market like Australia, BVOD platforms are very much accommodating the FAST ecosystem. FAST platforms and channels are certainly entering those BVOD services. That is already giving quite a large market awareness.”
Keeble noted that consumption is also growing in LatAm, especially in Brazil and Mexico, and he expects to see gains in CEE in the coming years.
“We have to be mindful about content, localization and cost,” Keeble continued. “As distributors, we are going to be wearing those costs for the time being. Internal investment is paramount in any decision-making. We’ve seen significant opportunity in Asia, but we need to be mindful that while viewership may be high, advertising and the CPMs reflected may need to increase in the region.”
ITV Studios has rolled out channels in the U.S., U.K., France, Spain, the Nordics, the Netherlands and Australia. On the opportunity outside of the U.S., Haigh said, “where the material growth lies in terms of actual numbers are the U.K. and Germany. We got something live in Latin America recently, and the scale in terms of eyeballs is potentially huge, but the CPM level and the monetization are tricky. We’ve had a few conversations in Asia, in Singapore and South Korea. It becomes tricky when you’ve got to think about subtitling or dubbing and then, more realistically, the size of the audience. What’s the ad market look like? These are all things that I’m sure we’re all being challenged on by our management teams. We need to make sure that we’re able to present really strong business cases to move into this space and new markets.”
Woolf noted that “high viewing and low ad revenue is disastrous because you’re paying for the bandwidth. You can have as many viewers as you want, but if the money’s not there, your channel is running at a loss. There are a lot of countries we could be doing something in, but the time is not quite right yet. Equally, the way dubs are licensed, if it’s not a production you own, you’ve either got to acquire them back from the local broadcaster or you’re creating new dubs. So it’s another layer of costs. Certainly, the English-speaking markets are where the money is at the moment.”