linear tv viewing

The decline of cable TV is something the industry has been observing for years, with viewership of streaming services rising. For the first time ever, cable and broadcast TV made up less than half of U.S. TV viewing in July 2023.1 YouTube, for example, has more than 2.7 billion active users.2 Over half of internet users access YouTube at least once a month. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and a wide range of network-specific services are gaining ground, but that doesn’t mean linear TV is dead or dying.

Linear TV, as opposed to on-demand or streaming video, is your traditional channel-based programming that’s been associated with cable and broadcast in the past. The high cost of cable and need for a digital antenna for broadcast TV – along with stagnating content compared to the massive budgets and convenience of streaming – has resulted in those sources losing ground in viewership. But one kind of linear TV is growing in popularity—FAST channels.

FAST stands for Free Ad-Supported Television, fast channel platforms are accessible on a wide range of smart TVs (Samsung, Vizio, and LG all have platforms) and through video streaming devices like Roku and Amazon FireTV as applications (Pluto TV, Tubi, Freevee, and others fall in this category). Psychologically, there’s a reason why linear TV has held on as long as it has—because people don’t always know what they want to watch. The concept of having a variety of channels with set programming isn’t inherently flawed, and I don’t think it’s what’s driving the decline of cable. Sky-high prices and slowness to adapt to consumer needs is. FAST channels are gaining ground as a form of entertainment that’s easily accessible and free.

As of now, FAST viewership is still a small portion of overall viewership, but it’s growing. And over half of all viewers (57%) have watched FAST TV as of 2023 according to a Hub survey.3 In the United States, there are over 1,000 FAST channels currently being aired (1,073, to be exact), and this number continues to grow.4

These channels are nimble and responsive to audience demand, helping them adapt far more quickly than a traditional cable or broadcast channel.

Here are the 10 biggest FAST channel platforms as of 2023 according to IndieWire’s latest count5:

1. Plex Live TV: 438 channels
2. Roku Live TV: 395 channels
3. Pluto TV Live TV: 358 channels
4. Sling Freestream Live TV: 355 channels
5. Xumo Play: 309 channels
6. Vizio WatchFree+ Live: 295 channels
7. LG Channels Live TV: 285 channels
8. Freevee Live TV: 265 channels
9. Samsung TV Plus Live: 262 channels
10. Tubi Live TV: 236 channels

But just because one of these platforms is shown as having X number of channels doesn’t mean the channels themselves are unique. The platforms offer a common set of channels, along with some that may be unique to their own platform. But who makes the content on these channels? It turns out, a lot of it is done by the usual suspects who license content that’s shown elsewhere – Paramount, Warner Brothers, A+E, NBC, iHeartMedia and more.

So what does this mean for advertisers? Here are a few facts to know: FAST channels are supported by ads that typically run 15-30 seconds. Because FAST channels have niche subject matter – even more so than typical Cable channels – it’s easy to find a channel that reaches your target audience. Ad space is typically bought by programmatic auction, and there’s plenty of opportunities to get in on the action without a huge budget.

Ready to dive into FAST channel advertising and face the new not-only-cable world of linear TV? We can help. Get in touch to find out how we can keep your advertising strategy fresh and relevant.