IP Owners Talk Factual FAST Rollouts


Autentic’s Patrick Hörl, Cineflix Rights’ Mike Gould and Blue Ant Media’s Jamie Schouela shared their insights on launching and programming factual FAST channels as the TV Real Festival continued today.

The Time to Go FAST? session, available here, featured Hörl, Autentic’s founder and managing director; Gould, senior VP of digital at Cineflix Rights; and Schouela, president of global channels and media at Blue Ant Media, in conversation with TV Real’s Kristin Brzoznowski.

“Factual is an obvious place to start when it comes to rolling out FAST channels,” Gould said. “It has some very established subgenres that users are familiar with. The bulk of our catalog is high-volume unscripted programming, so it made sense for us to focus on those key brands and launch FAST channels with those shows as tentpole IP.”

Blue Ant has also rolled out an array of FAST channels, complementing its Canadian pay-TV channels portfolio, focused on genres like history, paranormal and lifestyle. “It’s a quickly growing space,” Schouela said. “Viewers are migrating to FAST around the world.”

“Everyone can launch a channel; the question is to maintain it and to captivate an audience,” Hörl said. “That’s really tough. You need to have a strong partnership with the platforms that you are on. If the platforms know what they want strategically, that helps enormously. We’ve been operating our own pay-TV channels in the market for 15 years already. We have a strong program sales house, and we are also producing content. So for us, it was not too threatening to make that move from pay-TV into the FAST world.”

Brzoznowski asked the panelists about the strategic decision-making process behind launching a new factual FAST channel.

“We ask, What’s the USP of this brand?” Gould said. “If it’s an established genre, what’s the twist on the genre that we’re giving? But crucially, we won’t develop or launch a FAST brand unless we can guarantee that there’s at least some content on that channel that’s exclusive to that channel. We’re beyond the point now with FAST where platforms are happy with just the same content swimming non-exclusively across dozens of channels. You’ve really got to have something unique to your channel in order to get those distribution deals on the right platforms. When it comes to determining between single-brand and multi-brand channels, volume comes into play massively. You need a big chunk of hours to launch a single-brand channel, and you need that IP to be resonant enough that people are going to binge it as much as you want them to. We like genre brand channels because it means we can pull in content from a number of different sources and build brands that have a bit more longevity than the limitations of a single piece of IP. And it allows us to push those brands onto multiplatform as well.”

Hörl agreed that having a deep library is crucial. “You need to be able to focus within your genre on a particular IP that people like. Data about how your content performs in the broad spectrum of the AVOD world helps a lot to make the right decision on which particular theme your FAST channel is supposed to be focusing on. It also helps you to convince the platforms why they should take your IP rather than somebody else’s. We are still trying to figure out what role brands play in the FAST world, but it’s very clear that brands help you and that established brands give you a head start against everybody else in the market. The difficult thing for us is how to place the exploitation of our piece of content on FAST amid all the other monetization streams that we want to utilize. That is something that needs a lot of fine-tuning in the real world.”

The panelists then shared their thoughts on how to market channels such that they cut through amid the wealth of FAST services available today.

“Where we try to differentiate ourselves is in some of the campaigns that we do with the platforms to try to drive viewership to our channels. We’re leveraging some of the platform real estate to see if we can get promotions to target audiences and introduce them to the channel and hopefully convert them into long-term viewers.”

“Having thematic blocks and stunts that draw people’s attention and make it more of an event rather than a routine to watch a FAST channel always makes a huge difference,” agreed Hörl.

“Exclusivity is very important, especially in the competitive space that we’re in,” Schouela added. “Our general rule is at least 75 percent-plus of our content is exclusive to the channel. And because we want to create a brand and a destination, we take the same stunting approach. It keeps it fresh. It keeps audiences coming back.”

Hörl noted that the lack of data on viewing habits is a significant challenge. “There is no established format between the platforms for how they deliver data. You might be either getting nothing or you might be showered in data that you can’t read. You want to be as close as possible to your audience, and you want to be able to read that behavior, and that is still an area where we would need to see progress in the FAST world.”

Schouela agreed, adding, “It’s the Wild West on data right now. We’re on many platforms. We get very different amounts [of data], even the metrics. What’s an impression? What’s time spent? They all define it a bit differently. And I often joke that it’s apples from one platform and bananas from another. We make a fruit salad out of it and try to understand the whole view. But it’s not perfect.”

The conversation then moved on to the monetization models in the FAST space. “In certain cases, it’s a rev share; in other cases, an inventory share,” Schouela said. “In other cases, there’s a flat fee deal. There are lots of different constructs. And it really depends on the brand and the platform.”

At Cineflix Rights, “We’re not in the business of controlling our own output and inventory yet,” Gould explained. “That is something we’re actively looking into. The majority of ours are sort of revenue-share deals. We’ve had a handful of flat license fee deals as well. Monetization is strong, but you only see how well they’ve sold the ads against it when you get your check in the post, which is often a few months after the quarter. It can be a bit of a lottery sometimes. Our focus is on driving as much audience and as many hours viewed to the platforms. Once we get a better position on our inventory, then we can hopefully have better control of the monetization.”

“These advertising dollars come from primary marketing partners, from the platform and from backfill partners,” Hörl added. “You have to orchestrate your advertising revenue streams. That’s really crucial. And at some times of the year, backfill is more important than you would want it to be. At other times, you are better off dealing with particular agencies. And on top of everything else, we believe FAST ultimately is an international activity, not something you can do purely on a national basis. The advertising market is not very structured and not very well organized on an international level. You’re dealing with a multitude of regional advertisers, and you need to also deal with those folks who are trying to play the international advertising market. And to bring this all together is not that easy.”

For FAST to see real monetization gains, advertising needs to be much more targeted, Hörl explained. “Once the international platforms get their acts together better when it comes to selling ads, it will help all of us. We want this to be a thriving market, not just because we want to make money from our content but also because, ultimately, we want the market to be healthy enough so that it can induce the production of new content. That’s what it’s always about. You don’t want to deal with a medium that represents a bottom feeder in the market. You want to be dealing with a medium that actually helps you to create that great content that we are all so excited about.”

Schouela added that the level of monetization around FAST is at different stages around the world, with the U.S. still by far the most lucrative and developed market. “The rest of the world is growing quickly. As more audiences discover the platform, advertisers always follow the audience. We know more dollars are going to come into CTV around the world. But it’s early days right now. In North America, we’re in an ad slump. It’s been a tough ad market for at least a year or so now. And I see that on the cable side, I see that on the FAST side. It’s going to grow. Ad cycles are cyclical. It’s going to turn the other way again, as it always does. We believe that as it does gain strength again, dollars are going to shift from other mediums into FAST, into CTV. It’s going to be where a lot of the growth is. We’re very bullish from that perspective.”

The panelists then returned to the issue of analytics and the key KPIs they prioritize. “Fundamentally, the hours streamed is what’s going to result in the revenue earned, so that’s always the one that’s going to grab our attention straight away,” Gould said. “Average watch time is something that we really focus on. Our channels that can glue people into them for as long as possible are the ones that do the best. We try to schedule our channels in a way that we can get people into that binge session. We’re also very interested in the slightly softer metric of how exploiting some of our big IP on FAST can actually help with the general perception of these brands and their longevity, perhaps getting new shows commissioned as well.”

Hörl also stressed the importance of tracking average watch time. “Ultimately, it’s also a reflection of how efficient your scheduling is. There are a lot of AI tools now being developed to support your scheduling. This is exactly the thing that we need in order to optimize the time that people stay with our channels so that we make it as smooth as possible for people to move from one piece of content to the next.”

As to how these IP owners are expanding the reach of their FAST channels, Schouela said that Blue Ant is going “territory by territory and brand by brand. It’s super competitive in the U.S. right now, and we’ve managed to build fairly good distribution across a number of platforms. In those cases, it’s about maintaining and building the audiences. In the rest of the world, we are actively looking to expand now. Our brands are in 43 countries. We are working with some of the same global platforms as they expand out—the Pluto TVs, the Samsungs, the Rokus, the Tubis and others—but also a lot of local and regional partners.”

Autentic began its FAST channels in its home base of Germany before expanding to the U.S. “It took us a year before we got traction in the U.S. market. But once you are in, it’s a completely new ballgame. I’m not even sure whether you can run a channel internationally without being in the U.S. going forward. The next step for us is to leave those language territories that we are most familiar with. The next target market for us is Latin America or the Spanish-speaking world, including North America. We will only make that move once it makes commercial sense. We want to launch in LatAm on an AI-based translation tool within the next three months.”

AI-powered dubbing is a game-changer, Schouela said. “The dubbing of it is critical. You need to be in the local language, you have to have relevance in the market. Dubbing has been a very expensive proposition historically. It is a much easier entry into markets at that cost structure. LatAm has been an important market for us. We look at Australia as a big growth market. We look at many parts of Europe. It’s all growing very quickly.”

The U.S. has been the priority for Cineflix Rights thus far, but Gould is looking at Canada and has seen gains in the U.K. “Where we have available dubs, we’re going to launch into U.S. Hispanic and LatAm. There are some very interesting tools coming to market that could change all that very quickly as well.”

As the session wrapped, the panelists shared their thoughts on the future of FAST. Schouela referenced the role technological developments, namely AI, will play in aiding content discovery. “You’re literally scrolling and people have to know what they’re looking for. If you’re featured by the platforms, that’s helpful. We’re going to get to the point, and this is where the metadata does come in, where the platforms are going to enable AI very soon to surface what you like to watch and more of it.”

Gould added, “You would hope that if they can solve the personalization and the discoverability problem, then that would maybe relax some of the channel caps they have on the platforms because it would feel like a much more curated experience to the user. So it won’t feel like this enormous sea of content. That could be massively beneficial for channel providers. Competition is great. It’s legitimizing what we’re doing, and we think it’s raising the bar and it’s bringing more ad dollars to it and a much more premium experience, but we would look to the platforms to figure out ways in their products to deal with all of the demand for channels that want to get that carriage.”

Hörl agreed and pointed to developments that can lower the cost of setting up new channels. “There are so many different parties I need to pay in order to get a FAST channel up and running. A lot of them are technical service providers and software companies. In order to be more flexible and at the forefront of what people really want to see, some of the technology that we need right now would be to smoothen the whole process of how you get the channel out there.”