FAST Channels Part Two: Why They Matter for Sports Entities

Samsung, ATP Media, and Telstra Broadcast Services On Why FAST Should Be Part of Your Content Strategy

Below is part two of our report on the rise of FAST (free ad-supported streaming). It has been undeniable in the past two years, and the transcript below dives into everything from how to launch a FAST channel, what makes for a successful one, and how it can help sports entities, both big and small, expand their reach and business. It is based on a panel discussion at Sportel Monaco that was moderated by SVG Co-Executive Director Ken Kerschbaumer, featured three key entities either involved in or seriously investigating a FAST sports service: Samsung (represented by Chris Gregory, strategic content partner, lead, Samsung TV Plus); Telstra Broadcast Services (Anna Lockwood, head of EMEA/Americas, Telstra Broadcast Services); and ATP Media (Alan Bruno, head of broadcast development, ATP Media). Click here to read Part 1.

FAST panel at Sportel: (from left) ATP Media’s Alan Bruno, Samsung’s Chris Gregory, Telstra Broadcast Services’ Anna Lockwood, and moderator SVG’s Ken Kerschbaumer

Launching a FAST service with live sports can require some controls around where it is seen, and also which sponsors are seen. Chris, can you discuss how Samsung TV handles those situations?

Gregory: FIFA Plus is a great example where we launched it in 20 countries out of our 24. If any rights holder comes to us, we do put blocks in and we appreciate that sponsors have multimillion billion dollar deals, so we’ll block out any competitors. My Samsung ads team aren’t always happy with that, but they understand that potentially the deals that are done at this kind of level are at this point much higher than FAST. So, we would block any competitor ads and we’d actually get introductions to the major sponsors for them so they can get their campaigns to viewers at the most relevant time and tournaments.

What do we see as the opportunity for smaller organizations and how do they get involved?

Gregory: For the smaller federations it’s a great opportunity for distribution because they might not have a broadcast relationship in all of the countries, we have our service in. What we are looking for are FAST channels that resonate with a local viewer. For example, field hockey would probably work a lot better in the Netherlands as opposed to Germany. So, we review the channel, and we have managers in each country who will say, “This will work, this won’t work.” So, for smaller federations we do more local-level deals.

Bruno: The in-between is a larger federation with perhaps smaller level tournaments that maybe don’t have a TV or broadcast home. FAST could be an interesting solution for that as well.

Lockwood: And everyone has dark markets. There are a lot of conversations around where there is a rights gap, where there is a market that’s dark, and where there are fans that are underserved. I think there’s a big play in FAST for everyone from tier one down to niche sports or emerging sports.

Let’s dive into what makes for a good FAST channel. How much content should they look to have on a weekly basis for example? How much do you have to refresh? What’s that challenge?

Gregory: When I started at Samsung TV Plus four years ago, we were asking for 50 hours and 10% refresh a month. Now we’re looking at 150 to 200 hours from launch plus a 25% refresh because the viewers get more sophisticated. Once they haven’t got the number of hours their channel starts underperforming and that’s when they start losing viewership and they start losing monetization as well. The ones with the higher hours and the higher refresh are the partners we really want on the platform.

Can you also do day parts? This feels very much like the cable landscape where at 3:00 AM the quality drops down a little bit. But if a channel’s distributed globally, how do you lean into that so that dayparts line up with time zone?

Gregory: We have a compliance team that looks into all of that. Luckily that’s not my job, but we try and get all partners to schedule their channels accordingly with day parts. With movie channels, for example, in the UK all 15-and-up rated films are scheduled after 9 pm. We know from the data that we see that the people who are watching are normally kids early in the morning, late at night just before they go to bed, and then the parents after that as well. We try and create a very family friendly environment because we know that it’s a family environment that TV Plus is being watched by.

Lockwood: And that’s also something that for us is interesting because we get asked a lot more about normalization, localization, compliance, regulations. When we first started this, those conversations were not that common but now, with the changing regulatory landscape, that’s become much more critical.

Chris, what about exclusivity, having a channel that is only on Samsung TV?

Gregory: Exclusivity is something we’re really pushing. DAZN FAST Plus is exclusive to Samsung TV Plus and I think it’s a way of selling the service and potentially selling TVs and devices in retail. You can form stronger partnerships because it’s like you are trusted with someone’s brand, their rights. And you get more granular into the schedule, and you can tweak it a bit more. Exclusivity differentiates us between a very competitive marketplace as well, whether that’s FAST platforms or other OEMs.

Bruno: Chris and the Samsung TV Plus team are in a position to offer a compelling exclusivity option just because of their market share. So it may be that we [at ATP Media] look at it as if we were to do something exclusively, we’re going to get a lot of benefit from promotion of the channel. And perhaps that outweighs pushing out on all other platforms. And it might be a resource thing: are we actually resourced to utilize all of the platforms out there? Does it perhaps make more sense to concentrate on one platform? So that’s for us to think about.

Lockwood: And as a woman’s football fan, having DAZN with UEFA Champions League, and not just on the Samsung television but on the Galaxy and on all the various connected devices, is a pretty compelling proposition.

Chris, how many channels is optimum for a FAST channel service?

Gregory: We’ve got 162 channels now in the UK and we’re looking to get down to about 120, 125, purely because of discoverability reasons. The rest of our European channels are around the hundred mark, so they’ve got a bit of room to grow.

We are at a stage where we were just launching a lot of channels maybe two to three years ago but now, we have data to know what works and what we should be focusing on. It comes back to our strategy where it’s a very localized structure where we want local language, whether language-specific, dubbing, or subtitles, but also brands that resonate locally. We are getting a little bit more selective.

But there are other platforms, other OEMs, that want to get to a 300 mark. And that’s really great to see when you do press releases and it’s probably an extra bouquet of variety for the user, but when we’ve gone up to a higher margin it’s just really hard for the viewer to find the channels and it’s harder [for us] to market them.

Bruno: It’s about discoverability so the service is profitable but it’s also about the brand. We want to be in an environment where we are seen and not hidden away. From a brand point of view that would be quite damaging.

Chris, you mentioned getting a lot of pitches every week. What makes for a good pitch?

Gregory: We look at the genre. At the moment our movie genre has about 30 channels in the UK, and we want to cut that down. We take a lot of things into consideration, but mainly it’s probably the brand. And if it’s sport, then is it also live, archives, or originals? Is it marketable? Does it resonate? We get a lot of briefs that might have worked two or three years ago but then we’ll always try and reply as much as we can just say, “Look, to get on the service, we’re really looking for this number of hours and this amount of refresh, can you do that?”

How long does that process usually take if a channel is greenlit?

Gregory: On average, maybe three to four months. But that covers the green light, the final schedule, the contract, the integration with the technical partners, and the quality assurance, which goes on for a month as we are very thorough on that. And then obviously there are introductions to the marketing team. But some deals have gone a lot longer than that, some have gone shorter.

And do things like image and audio quality matter?

Gregory: When we get a channel proposition into our business development team, we’ll then speak to the product team who look at it from a, “Is it full HD? Is it 4×3? Is it 16×9?” We’ve got to think about that as well as the content that’s on offer. The product team are very close to what we do and making sure the picture spec is up to quality and again. It’s why you buy a Samsung TV.

Lockwood: And I would second that. I think that especially in sports, it’s important. We’ll be asked to provide an HD 720p, 480p, and three different delivery options. We’ll be asked around for Samsung and LG, probably it will be HLS, for Freevee and the non-Samsung world, it will be Zixi, SRT, et cetera. But that high-end experience is absolutely critical for sports. And the tech specs for each platform will have very detailed requirements that are part of our onboarding as we’ll be held accountable for delivering to that spec.

Where do you think we will be in five years? If cable subscribers are going to keep going down do you think FAST is going to keep going up? Is it going to replace that need for a linear cable channel?

Gregory: FAST is effectively a linear channel with ad breaks and I think it’s transferrable. It’s just that maybe you just single IP that’s curated specifically for FAST in a way that you wouldn’t get on traditional TV. There’s a future for FAST as. five years ago, FAST wasn’t really anywhere, and now look where we are.

Bruno: I’ll just add that at ATP Media we see it as another technical solution for linear channels. But I think you’re right, it just underlines the fact that people do still want to sit back and watch linear TV. They want a sit back experience, a lean back experience. Look, we are looking at it as part of a wider channel strategy and we see it as an attractive one that is an interesting space for us.

Lockwood: And what we’re seeing in the market is very much similar. It’s a bouquet approach. It’s part of your overall strategy with broadcast with social media with TikTok. And FAST can be a very good front door into a new market, a new age group, and a new sport. And the reason why I think we’re seeing it more and more as a services business is we’re already working with the content that’s going to all these destinations. And FAST just becomes another destination for content.

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