From Pay to FAST: The Lightning Approach


With a long history operating in the pay-TV channels space, Lightning International has expanded its lineup with a portfolio of FAST services, CEO James Ross told FAST Festival delegates today.

Lightning, now owned by AsiaSat, has built up a slate of 12 curated services across a range of genres to offer FAST platforms, Ross told World Screen’s Kristin Brzoznowski in the session, which you can view here.

“We’re a business that’s been around for 12 years,” Ross said. “In the past, we focused on broadcast and pay TV, and we continue to broadcast channels suitable for all platforms. FAST is giving us a bit of a lift in a different area of our business. As the advertising grows with the FAST channels, it is increasingly important to all of us to balance perhaps a slight downturn in pay-TV revenues. We’re very optimistic about it. Different parts of the world are in different stages of growth with FAST. The U.S. leads the market. Europe is growing. In Australia and New Zealand, it’s growing quite well. Asia is the laggard at the moment, but it is growing. There are lots of plans out there, many people launching channels and new platforms.”

Lightning’s 12 FAST channels are “fully curated,” Ross said. “We plan them as if they are full broadcast channels. We’re not sitting on a pile of content and playing it out one piece at a time. These are fully thought-through channels.”

Lightning represents services such as NOW- and Trace-branded music channels, GB News, Pet Club TV, Action Hollywood Movies, Docsville, Pulse Documentaries, NewsWorld and Kartoon Channel!

“We look at what operators don’t have, what we can provide and how we can put channels together in a full quality way,” Ross said on the approach to assembling the lineup. “We know that music channels work very well in many FAST platforms because viewers tend to put them on and leave them on in the background. Also, 24/7 news channels work well for the same reason.”

The FAST platform space, currently led by CTV device manufacturers and AVOD services, features a broad range of players globally, Ross noted. “Success comes when you can get in at the beginning and help an operator to launch in a particular region or market. That’s been part of our philosophy. We’ve been doing FAST channels for three years now, so we’ve been around for most of the duration of FAST so far.”

The conversation then moved to how FAST can aid discoverability, with Ross using Docsville as an example. There is a FAST channel version and a Docsville SVOD service. The FAST channel can be “used as a shop window to drive people interested in a deeper dive into documentaries. We use that as a way to get them toward the SVOD. There can’t be a FAST channel for every SVOD out there, but there are some opportunities to do that.”

Headquartered in Hong Kong, Ross discussed the FAST channel opportunities across Asia. “The business is still in its infancy. Many people are scratching their heads, going, how do we get into the FAST channel business? There aren’t any pan-Asia pay-TV operators. There are lots of people that offer channels on a pan-regional basis, but no operators that are offering anything pan-regionally. Australia and New Zealand have been doing quite well off the back of some of the Western launches of FAST platforms. We’ve got Samsung and LG, and increasingly people like Fetch TV in Australia. In Asia, a few pay-TV operators are coming through now and announcing that they are launching FAST platforms. I think in the early part of 2024, we’re going to see a number of the bigger operators coming up with more pan-regional platforms, particularly in the world of smart TVs. Eventually, we’ll see different platforms popping up in every market in the region. Japan has done quite good things already in FAST. They’ve got quite a lot of platforms already up. Japan is also full of numerous major streaming services. We’ll see the next 12 to 18 months as a pretty busy period in the Asia-Pacific region and, hopefully, lots of opportunities for all of us.”

Discussing the overall FAST market globally, Ross thinks the U.S. may have already hit saturation. “There’s a lot of people trying to get in on the action and a lot of small operators that don’t seem to be making very much money, either for themselves or the individual channels. Eventually, there will be quite a lot of merging or closing down of some of these smaller operators. But for the time being, the U.S. remains probably the leading source of revenue in the FAST world. Europe is growing, though. We’re seeing a lot of interest in smart TVs and new platforms. Platforms like Rakuten TV are growing pretty quickly. And you’ve got a lot of in-country services that are also coming through. There’s a lot more opportunity in Europe at the moment than in the U.S. There’s a lot of opportunity in Asia going forward. FAST will pop up in other regions, including Africa and Latin America. The vibe we’re getting from the platforms is that they’re very focused on quality. It’s no longer about quantity. And they are looking for brand names to drive the platforms and for well-curated quality channels. That’s something that Lightning has been playing to, bringing into the market the products that will work for operators and be in the upper echelons of the ratings on every platform. That’s what we all need to do to get those revenues.”