L.A. Screenings Independents: FAST & AVOD Opportunities


At the L.A. Screenings Independents, Google TV’s Hsiwen Lin, OTTera’s Jordan Warkol and Grateful’s Ariel Tobi participated in a panel moderated by Elizabeth Bowen-Tombari, editor of TV Latina, which examined the impact of advertising on the new FAST and AVOD platforms.

The panel explored how the current landscape of this segment affects the streaming wars and how it impacts distributors and content producers.

Lin, business development, media and multicultural entertainment at Google TV, kicked off the conversation by highlighting that the company has been working in this area with partners throughout the year. “Recently, we launched our own FAST channel, Google TV Live Experience, which we think is a new area that we are looking to offer different types of users to have a distinctive experience,” she said. “We are in a learning stage, and we think it presents a great area for growth, and we look forward to working with different partners [going forward].”

Recently, Google TV announced the launch of more than 800 FAST channels, including channels from FOX, CBS and ABC, plus other channels highlighting well-known series such as The Walking Dead and Law & Order: SVU. “We want to offer consumers the kind of content they want to watch without having to pay,” Lin explained. “We seek to deliver a tailored experience for each user. We can learn some of the viewer’s preferences when they log in with their Gmail account by signing in to Google TV. If you like news content, we will promote that kind of content because we already know the tastes of that particular viewer. Our job is to get the user to watch the content they want to watch as quickly as possible, rather than having them spend hours searching for what they want to watch.”

Warkol, OTTera’s senior director of business development, noted that “we have a more unique position in this segment than other technology solutions.” OTTera offers a plethora of services, including multiplatform development, monetization services, and asset management and distribution, among others. “We are agnostic in terms of the services we provide, and that is helping to meet the needs of our customers and platform partners. It has to do with a mix of the digital presence of [content]. It’s key to have the content at a touch point where the user can find you. If you’re not available on a device or app, you’re hardly going to be found, and that applies to FAST and VOD as well. This is where we want to help our clients.”

Tobi, who serves as CEO of Grateful, said the company is looking to “connect brands with content. We’re seeing, on the one hand, the SVOD world trying to get into the advertising world, and on the other hand, you have the traditional AVOD and digital channels. [It’s a war] because there are the SVODs trying to reach brands, and then there are the traditional platforms proving that they generate more results and data.”

Bowen-Tombari then asked about the current importance of companies advertising on FAST and AVOD platforms. “The advertising business is very big for us,” Lin said. “We know how important it is to serve our users and customers, and we’re aiming to leverage advertising videos that are different than what’s shown on YouTube through premium content.”

“Advertising is very important, and it’s here to stay,” Warkol highlighted. “What happened with Netflix and Disney proved that. One of them was very adamant in saying they were never going to have advertising, but eventually, they had to give in. People want to have choices and may want to pay to watch without ads, but they’re also looking to watch for free with advertising. If you limit audiences and another service launches offering the options they are looking for, then they will go to that platform.”

He added: “At the end of the day, we are working to satisfy the customer’s needs, and what they want is more options. It’s important to do this in a way that makes them feel familiar and comfortable. If you do that, they will stay longer on your service and watch your content.”

The conversation then turned to the evolution of advertising models, from broadcast and pay TV to streaming with AVOD and FAST channels. “What brands are looking for is data,” Tobi said. “It’s fine if you’re trying to use the quality of the content or the stories to make the sale for those brands, but the main element for them is data. When you’re talking about data on AVOD platforms like YouTube, you’re talking about billions of views and millions of subscribers. [These services] can tell brands exactly where their communications are going. We’re trying to get the brands without the data, and that’s proving very difficult.”

“If you have a brand and you want to do a very specific integration within a show, you’re going to have to talk to the studios and the networks to get that kind of integration,” Lin explained. “But if you just want to reach a broader base, say the 18-to-49 set, then digital will be a much easier environment to achieve that than traditional TV or cable.”

Regarding OTTera’s dealings with its clients, Warkol noted that “everyone is at different stages of investing in digital and moving away from just linear. It has been proven that you need to have a balanced budget that is not just for pay TV or linear in order to reach a wider audience.”

Lin explained that “we can specifically target users by knowing their ages, cultural background, the particular type of content they watch or search for and their consumption. We also analyze the time, whether it’s during the day, afternoon or evening.”

Bowen-Tombari then asked about the advertising opportunities offered by the FAST and AVOD channels. “For now, I think there is a great opportunity for the distribution area because it’s a way to position your catalog in a huge world [that] the public can access,” Tobi commented. “Currently, we are in a bit of a distribution and production crisis, but the truth is that whoever has the data is the one who will win.”

“I think it’s very important when you look at the platforms in the U.S. and beyond, how careful they’ve been with their strategic launches in whole regions and within their own countries, whether it’s Latin America or Europe,” Warkol said. “A lot of the platforms expect to have a certain amount of FAST channels before they launch and want to make a good first impression.”

The executive cited Roku in Mexico as an example. “When they launched FAST in the country, they made sure they acquired local content that made sense for Mexican viewers, rather than just offering all the Spanish-language channels they had in the U.S. We cater to our customers in a way that makes sense for them. We serve our clients in a similar way and then help them reach out to other areas. We work with a lot of clients who may have content from Mexico or Brazil. It doesn’t make sense to only offer it in those territories because there is a large audience that speaks Spanish and Portuguese.”

Lin commented that Latin America represents a market with great opportunities. “We are carefully analyzing what else we can do in the territory. But knowing each territory has its own limitations. Latin America is still a large free-to-air and pay-TV market, but subscription services continue to grow in the region, and it is taking screen share away from traditional television.”

She added: “The more time they invest in streaming, the less time they will spend on traditional TV, and FAST channels could be a great potential substitute for TV, but it will depend on the cost to the consumer.”

“Based on the data we’ve had for more than a decade, we could see that Latin America has a huge adoption of Internet-connected devices and has a massive tune-in to SVOD and AVOD applications,” Warkol noted. “That led us to be in Mexico and Brazil, but it was necessary to have local team members to be able to learn and serve customers. Pay TV is growing, and there are people creating their own apps and FAST channels, reaching new digital audiences. What is evolving slower is monetization because the market is fragmented. Brazil is different from Mexico, and then the rest of Latin America has ups and downs depending on the market. In terms of advertising, the development is in different stages in the region, but definitely, the tuning and consumption are there.”