Tim Siglin, Founding Executive Director, Help Me Stream Research Foundation, and Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, sits down with Patrick Courtney, Head of Streaming and Business Development, Fuse Media, to discuss FAST brand verticalization and UX in this exclusive interview from Streaming Media East 2023.
Siglin begins by asking Courtney to describe his role at Fuse Media and what Fuse Media does.
“I’m responsible for our FAST channels, our subscription streaming, our YouTube channel, our social [channels] – that’s all under my purview,” Courtney says. “Fuse Media is a multi-platform entertainment company, [and] we reach a youth audience. We’re minority-owned, and we have two cable linear channels and five FAST channels. We have a subscription service tailored to towards a multicultural audience, and specifically within FAST, reaching underrepresented demographics within that space.”
Siglin mentions that Fuse Media entered into the FAST space in 2018, and he asks if they started all five FAST channels at the beginning.
“We started with one,” Courtney says. “We were just sort of dipping our toe in the water. So we launched our first FAST channel, which was kind of a ‘kitchen sink channel.’ It was just whatever we had lying around, ‘Let’s throw it in there and see what’s going on.’ And then, as we started to see the revenue materialize there, we started to invest, and we’ve been following the revenue. We’ve realized that there are opportunities to create distinct products within FAST because of the nature of viewing behaviors in FAST and how niche and targeted those things are to create verticalized brands that are separate from the Fuse flagship pay TV linear brand.”
Fuse’s Current Programming Approaches to Their FAST Channels
“So you mentioned [a] sort of the kitchen sink channel,” Siglin says. “Anything that’s lying around is primarily what you’re doing, putting pre-recorded content on a playlist that plays out as live linear? Or are you doing actual live events in the middle of those FAST channels as well?”
Courtney says, “We’re not currently doing live, although we are going to be doing a live-to-tape event airing for a Juneteenth event that’s going to be featured on our Shades of Black channel. So that will be the first time we’re programming something within a day of airing.” Otherwise, he says, it’s a “combination of library Fuse content and windowing that, as well as [using] our distributor partners and studio relationships to program these channels, like Shades of Black, which is our flagship Black streaming service, and which did a billion minutes last year.”
Siglin asks about Fuse Media’s distribution system. “You’ve got the pay TV side and you’ve got the FAST side,” he says. “Is there content that airs first on the Fuse pay TV side that eventually moves over onto your FAST channels?”
“We are doing a little bit of that when it makes sense because describing the Fuse parent brand is different than Shades of Black, Latino Vibes, OUTTV PROUD, BACKSTAGE. When that content fits any one of those other brands, there’s typically an extensive windowing period.” He says it is a matter of ensuring that their most premium content is in their most premium environments.
The Discoverability Issues With FAST
Siglin mentions the sheer mass volume of FAST channels now on the market, which is estimated to be around 1700 channels. “It seems to me there’s an opportunity from an aggregation standpoint,” he says. He notes that while Fuse curates specific niche markets, he wonders if people are lost in a “sea of too many options,” not knowing where to do go to find what they want to watch.
“I think there are some product-based things that are going on in FAST,” Courtney says. “A little bit of personalization starting to kind of emerge, like favoriting, there’s those types of tools. From our standpoint, we’re trying to build lasting brands in that space, so it’s something where you want to come back because you know what kind of programming you’re going to get. That’s why I think single-series channels also do very well because you know exactly where to go to get what you want to watch. There are only so many properties that are going to emerge as winners in that world. And since we started launching channels in FAST, [our focus has been] on building strong brands from a marketing and merchandising standpoint, but also the curation [and] sourcing of the content…studio licensing deals with companies like Lionsgate to make sure that we’re programming premium content. So that it looks and feels like TV.”
What Are the Primary Device Types for Fuse Users?
Siglin notes that data points shown in the most recent Streaming Media’s State of Streaming Survey found that media consumption on battery-powered devices has increased to 47%. “So clearly, as a whole, the industry is sort of stuck in the middle,” he says. “But you’re talking about demographics that may be more mobile. They tend to consume on battery-powered devices. Do you find it a challenge to keep the brand excellence consistent across connected TVs and mobile devices and browsers?”
“Overwhelmingly, our viewership is in the connected TV environment,” Courtney says. So I would say that battery-powered devices just haven’t really had a significant enough amount of viewership. I think that’s partly because of how we’re programming – a feature-length, hour-and-a-half film airing on Shades of Black just sort of wants to be seen on a television screen. We’re all long-form programming.”
Siglin asks if Fuse also has an accessible AVOD library.
Courtney says that it depends on a number of factors. “There is a distinction between FAST, linear, and AVOD rights,” he says. “The content doesn’t always come with both of those. So when we are able to get it, we make sure that experience feels connected as much as it can, but it’s dependent.”
The Issues Around UX for Different Environments and its Impacts on FAST Discoverability
Courtney highlights the various arrays of UX for FAST viewers, which include pay TV, virtual multichannel video programming distributors (vMVPDs), subscription streaming services, apps, direct-to-consumer versus platform-based providers, and more. Reiterating the topic of discoverability, he says, “The consumer is ultimately suffering because they don’t know where to watch things. They have to go to a dozen different apps and platforms.”
“And it’s not even, ‘Can I watch it here?’” Siglin says. “[It’s], ‘Can I watch it here this month for these two weeks? Because somebody else is going to pick up the license later.”
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