FAST 2.0 is here, where 250-300 hours of content is the entry level – a mere twenty hours just will not do, discovers George Jarrett in conversation with Freemantle’s Valerio Motti.

Valerio Motti, VP of FAST Channels, Freemantle will be at IBC2023 to speak about the monetisation of FAST, which along with curation remain the hottest issues slowing commercial life in the FAST Lane.

Valerio Motti High Res

Valerio Motti, Freemantle

“I would not say that curation is an issue. It is a must,” said Motti. “We believe that FAST channels are real, legitimate TV channels, and we have extremely talented editorial people that curate the editorial aspects of every channel. With our scheduling strategy, we look at the data from our channels, and accordingly decide if and how to change the programming.

“Currently we have 33 FAST channels all over the world. Some of these are library sourced and one example here is Bay Watch. This is extremely popular and high quality, but it is library content,” he added. “We remastered the whole series and it looks much better, and whilst we have other library sourced projects, we also have FAST channels that are not; they are composed as recent productions. We have a very balanced portfolio.”

FAST comes in many forms – single IP, single genre, single talent, movie related, news, seasonal pop up and sport.

“The best channels out there look a lot like traditional cable service or Pay TV operator quality, but there is a difference I see that on FAST there is a very big number of single IP channels, and you do not see the same amount of single IP channels on any Pay TV platform. This is the main difference,” said Motti.

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FAST has become part of many eco systems, and there has been a rush to quality.

“At the beginning it was quantity, and the FAST platforms were interested in getting as many channels up as possible, but now there is the rush to quality and it you want to get onto a FAST platform you have to offer a very high-quality channel,” said Motti.

“Some platforms are still bouncing channels off (because of poor curation). If you track the number of channels on each of the top American platforms in December and check again in June, you will notice that some platforms have reduced the number of channels they carry,” he added.

A strong history of free TV

There are important differences between FAST USA and FAST Europe.

“The USA is where FAST was born, and there is a very specific reason why FAST resonated with American audiences so well; you have to pay a lot of money to access entertainment, and free TV is not a very strong market,” said Motti. “But suddenly you could access a bunch of free linear streaming channels for free. Pluto was one of the big players.

“In Europe we have such a strong history of free TV, so the key selling point of any FAST channel is not that it is free,” he added. “Spain had the World CUP football on Fast, and Mexico had the Olympics, but FAST in Europe is more complementary to traditional viewing.”

Motti has watched all the main broadcasters jump on the FAST bandwagon.

He said: “On their on-demand apps they have create a section for a FAST channel. This is extremely interesting, and although it is early days, I am sure this will become a key and important part of their business. FAST perfectly complements an on-demand offer.”

If FAST is such a flood of content, surely it will hit viewer support of more traditional outlets?

“More people are approaching FAST and more people are watching FAST everywhere in the World. Clearly time is taken away from somewhere. Is it taking away from Pay TV – probably, in certain countries. Is it taking away from SVOD – possibly,” said Motti.

“It is due to the nature of the laid-back viewing opportunity that FAST provides, and then there are the FAST EPG’s. The top players out there have got fantastic EPG navigation, but if you bump into BayWatch you know immediately what it is,” he added.

Motti accepts that FAST will take viewers away from other types of entertainment, and he sees a huge opportunity around sports channels.

“FAST is an incredibly great opportunity for those sports that are not mainstream, like football and its precious rights structure. Minor sports will be able to reach millions of fans without necessarily asking them to pay for it. The key thing is they will be able to reach them,” he said.

40 billion views a year

Motti has watched brands turn their eyes to FAST but offers a very harsh lesson.

“For a successful FAST channel, we assume that we need to have 250-300 hours of content in it. And you also need to refresh that content at a certain rate per year, so if a brand decides to enter the FAST market and they want to have a unique channel, they need to be prepared to invest a lot of money. You cannot find success with 20 hours,” he said.

“We have moved well away from Fast 1.0, and we are in FAST 2.0 where revenues are an important part of the business, but not in every country. It is either solid or developing,” he added. “In some countries FAST pays the bills, but in emerging countries you cannot monetise and earn so much.”

Turning to technology investments, Freemantle has gone big on data, and is about to go big with AI.

“We have invested in an internal business unit for data analysis. We have the data scientists and analysts that work on collecting the data from our social media and our FAST channels,” said Motti. “It is not an easy task because in social media we have 500 million fans and we generate more than 40 billion views a year.

“It is a lot of data and then we aggregate as well, with all the data from the FAST channels. We circulate internally the information from the data business unit, to all the other business units of the company – marketing, sales, and programming,” he added. “We always thought data was incredibly important but it is not so easy to get: we have to agree with the platforms what data they will allow us to have.”

The platforms are flooded with data, and some are happy to share much of it, while others are not.

“It is a conversation, and everybody understands how important it is,” said Motti. “In the market this is a discussion that happens a lot.”

Much cheaper with AI

Freemantle has only recently appointed an SVP of AI, who is figuring out every single AI use the company can benefit from.

“This is an important step to have somebody fully dedicated to AI. I cannot speak for Freemantle as a group here, but I can speak as the FAST operation, and there are three very interesting spaces in AI potentially,” said Motti.

“The first is dubbing where you want to go into many markets. Our content is in the English language so if we want to send it into Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, or Mexico we need to dub the content, and currently this is a very expensive service to use,” he added. “Subtitles are not cheap either, and that is another area where AI is interesting, and the other area which has huge potential is library. You may want to revitalise it and upscale from SD to HD, and with AI it will be much cheaper than the traditional route. FAST would benefit hugely through these segments of the AI.”

Motti is fond of campaign stunts, and recently Freemantle worked a good one with Samsung.

“We have the Jamie Oliver channel on Samsung UK and we created an event where Jamie created some tacos, and a taco van was parked near Kings Cross. This gave away free food to everybody for a couple of days, offering a Jamie Oliver book, and the chance to win a Samsung TV,” he said.

“You cannot imagine how many people turned up to taste those tacos. It was FAST using a proper traditional marketing deal on the ground,” he added.

Valerio Motti will speak in the September 15 panel session: Thriving in the Fast Lane: Monetisation for the Future of FAST.